Pill names land us in la la land

Taranaki Daily News - - Opinion - Jim Tucker

There’s some­thing un­help­ful about the way drug com­pa­nies la­bel their prod­ucts.

In the last years of his life, my father reck­oned he was on 22 dif­fer­ent pills.

The re­mark­able thing was he could reel off all their names, the sci­en­tific/mar­ket­ing names of them that drug com­pa­nies must spend, oh, min­utes think­ing up.

A friend of ours is the op­po­site. He takes three, and says he can’t re­call the names of any: there’s one for blood pres­sure, one for choles­terol and an­other for de­pres­sion.

He de­scribes the first as pink and con­tained in a lit­tle plas­tic bot­tle coloured dark or­ange with a white screw cap; the sec­ond is white and comes in a fat­ter, dark or­ange plas­tic bot­tle with a white cap; the third comes in a blis­ter pack in a card­board packet.

They have la­bels with the tech­ni­cal name of each drug writ­ten in tiny, faint type that’s too hard to read if you’re old enough to need the pills. More leg­i­ble type gives ad­vice about things like not get­ting too much sun, and avoid­ing grape­fruit. The name of the chemist is prom­i­nent, in fact the only thing that’s easy to read.

I agree with him that there’s some­thing un­help­ful about the way drug com­pa­nies la­bel their prod­ucts.

The anti-choles­terol pill isn’t too bad. It’s called Ator­vas­tatin, and since we recog­nise ‘‘statin’’ as hav­ing some­thing to do with choles­terol, that at least makes sense. Who knows where Atorva comes from.

The la­bel, which is rel­a­tively leg­i­ble, has the de­cency to tell him to take one daily at night (we’ll ig­nore the hint of gram­mat­i­cal con­fu­sion therein) for the con­trol of choles­terol. Care­ful word­ing that – it con­trols; no sug­ges­tion of that dan­ger­ous word ‘‘cure’’, which is to be avoided at all cost for ob­vi­ous rea­sons.

The other two pills are where the real prob­lem lies – one is called Ci­laza­pril and the other Ci­talo­pram. I reckon even Dad, with his great re­call, would have strug­gled with that.

My friend has tried to think of word as­so­ci­a­tions and rhymes to em­bed them in his mind, but the best he can do is say the BP tabs are the pink ones.

Those are the Ci­laza­prils, which by the way has a plus sign fol­low­ing it in its tiny, faded type­face and the words ‘‘hy­drochloroth­iazide Ta’’. And some num­bers – 5mg+ 12.5mg (APO). Fair enough. That info is for the med­i­cal peo­ple and the phar­ma­cist. We don’t need to know.

Un­til some­thing goes wrong. It did the other day.

The com­puter sys­tem at my friend’s GP’s surgery crashed. My friend had run out of pills and was hop­ing for an ur­gent re­newal that couldn’t for the mo­ment be eas­ily pro­vided.

The prac­tice staff asked him to con­firm what he was on, but he couldn’t read the bot­tle la­bel be­cause his eye­sight’s bug­gered even with glasses.

He can’t re­mem­ber the dif­fer­ence be­tween Ci­laza and Ci­talo, so as a last re­sort he said help­lessly: ‘‘The blood pres­sure pills are the pink ones.’’

The re­sponse was un­der­stand­ably icy: ‘‘We don’t go by colour.’’

So he’s feel­ing a bit dis­com­bob­u­lated. While he has no prob­lem re­call­ing the de­tails of a long re­port or the pro­ceed­ings of a coun­cil meet­ing with­out re­sort­ing to notes, he’s faced with the prospect of try­ing to do some­thing he’s never been good at – re­mem­ber­ing names.

The fact drug com­pa­nies are free to muddy the wa­ter by call­ing two en­tirely dif­fer­ent med­i­ca­tions by sim­i­lar names does not help.

He says he would be happy to as­sist if they ever wanted to show con­cern for the vast pub­lic hordes re­ly­ing on their pills. If it’s in­spi­ra­tion they want, he would oblige for free. He reck­ons he’s as good at mak­ing up new words as the smartest 11-year-old Amer­i­can child, whom we sus­pect is do­ing the work now.

For the blood pres­sure pills, how about ‘‘BPpinks’’; for an­tide­pres­sants, let’s go with the triedand-true ‘‘hap­pyp­ills’’; and for the choles­terol ones, ‘‘arteryream­ers’’. I know – not long enough and too easy to un­der­stand.

One other thing. The choles­terol pill bot­tle at least re­minds him what its con­tents do, but while the la­bel on the BP bot­tle says take one daily in the morn­ing, it fails to say what for.

The happy pill blis­ter pack doesn’t even say that much.

The packet warns to keep it away from kids, that the pills might make you sleepy, that you need to limit your al­co­hol in­take (to what, I won­der), and to take one each morn­ing – but no hint about what they do.

Ci­talo­pram, Ci­laza­pril…what could pos­si­bly go wrong.

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