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Ramesh Shankar
Wednesday, April 3, 2024, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

Recently, healthcare experts in the country have raised serious concern about the widespread confusion caused by identical or similar drug names in India's healthcare system. In fact, the issue of identical or similar drug names has been plaguing the healthcare sector in the country for a long time now. Experts have highlighted the alarming consequences of drugs sharing identical names but serving entirely different purposes. They have cited examples such as Linamac, used to treat diabetes in one form and as a treatment for multiple myeloma, a type of cancer, in another. They underscored the dangers posed by medications like Azidothiamidine, commonly known as AZT for HIV treatment, and Azathioprine, also referred to as AZT, used as an immunosuppressive medication. In addition to the alarming prevalence of identical drug names in India's healthcare system, there is another pressing issue of look-alike, sound-alike (LASA) drugs. These medications, despite having distinct purposes, share names that are phonetically and visually similar, posing significant risks to patient safety. LASA drugs such as Metformin for diabetes, Metoprolol for heart conditions, and Metronidazole for amoebiasis, often referred to as Met, Meto, and Metro respectively, demand heightened attention due to their potential for confusion. Then there is the availability of two different pharmacological formulations being marketed under the Medzol brand name. The Medzol injection is used for conscious sedation, an awake but relaxed state of calmness during a medical test at an ICU. Another company had also released pantoprazole under the brand name Medzol. Pantoprazole is used for treating certain stomach and esophagus problems such as acid reflux. Urgent redressal is the need of the hour to prevent potential mishaps and ensure patient safety. If the products are sold with identical brand names, especially for different pharmaceutical compositions, the result could be life threatening to a patient.

It is a fact that there are many drugs with identical brand names in India that can result in medication errors. Some of the names are dangerously similar. There are around 10,000 brands of drugs available in the country. And several of them have similar sounding or similar looking names, which is a reason for major concern among the prescribing physicians as there are chances of medical errors. These errors could cause serious harm to patients or even death. It is true that trade names of medicine in India are given irrationally without any bearing and any relevance to the therapeutic class, molecule and disease for which it is to be used. This irrational naming practice of branded medicine in India is confusing to healthcare professionals as well as to the patients. It was under this background, the Central Drugs Standards Control Organisation on February 26, 2019 brought out a draft amendment to the Drugs & Cosmetics Rules, 1945 to include a clause where a manufacturer or applicant intending to market a drug under a brand name should furnish an undertaking that the brand name or the trade name used by them should not lead to any confusion or deception in the market over LASA drugs. In case the applicant intends to market the drug under a particular brand name or trade name, the applicant should ensure that such or similar brand name or trade name is not already in existence in the market. By this amendment, the government aimed to regulate brand names. But, the fact remains that there are still many LASA drugs in India that can result in medication errors. The need of the hour is to have a separate wing under CDSCO to approve drug brand names to be marketed in the country, have a uniform control on brands movement which may not be possible by individual state regulators. Ultimately and gradually, the government should build a national registry of drug brand names.

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