Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Warning Regarding Importation of Drugs

Today, the US FDA released an announcement, warning of the possibility of medication substitution errors.  In some cases, drugs have brand names in the US that are the same as brand names for different drugs in other countries.  That is, the same name is used for two entirely different products.  In other cases, the brand names are not exactly alike, but are close enough that they could be mixed up easily.  

An example of the first kind of error:
In the United States, "Norpramin" is the brand name for an anti-depression drug containing desipramine but, in Spain, the same brand name, "Norpramin," is used for a drug that contains omeprazole, a treatment for stomach ulcers.
An example of the second kind of error:
For example, in the United Kingdom, "Amyben," a brand name for a drug product containing amiodarone, used to treat abnormal heart rhythms, could be mistaken for "Ambien," a U.S. brand name for a sleeping pill.
The FDA states that this is a reason that US residents should not get US prescriptions filled in foreign countries.  Personally, I think that is too stringent of a warning.  The fact is, errors of the second type can occur here.  For example, there have been reports of patients getting Lamictal instead of Lamisil, and vice versa.  The warning actually should be, for patients who intend to get prescriptions filled in another country, to be sure that both the brand name and the generic name of the drug is written on the prescription, then double check when they actually get the prescription.  People do need to realize that they are increasing the risk of a medication substitution error when they fill prescriptions in other countries, but that does not necessarily mean that they should not do it.  It does mean that they should be willing to accept responsibility for the increased risk, and do their own checking.