NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 24, 2005

Prescription mix-ups create a new risk for travelers since many drugs in foreign countries have the same brand name as U.S. medications, but contain completely different ingredients, says the Wall Street Journal.

The Institute of Safe Medication Practices has identified several drugs in the United States that have the same name as very different drugs sold by different manufacturers in European countries.

  • Norpramin, an antidepressant in the United States, is the name of an ulcer drug in Spain.
  • Flomax, used for prostate disease in the United States, has the same name as a pain medication in Italy.
  • Vivelle, which is a hormone treatment for menopause and osteoporosis in the United States, is a birth-control pill in Austria.
  • In Brazil, Dilacor is used to treat irregular heart rhythm and hypertension; in the United States, it is a blood-pressure drug and in Serbia it is used to treat heart failure.
  • Over-the-counter sleep aid Sominex shares its name with a sleep aid in the United Kingdom, but the two have extremely different side-effects.

These mix-ups could result in patients not getting a life-saving drug, getting the wrong drug or suffering unexpected interactions; patients who want to import less expensive drugs could encounter similar problems, says the Journal.

Moreover, there are about 16,000 drugs -- branded, generic and over-the-counter -- prescribed in the United States, and as the number continues to grow, there is no regulatory body that keeps track of names globally. Companies could do global searches but they are expensive and even alternative sources, like reference books and electronic databases, may not be exhaustive or up to date.

Until U.S. and foreign retailers collaborate, or companies ensure their labels are unique, travelers should protect themselves by packing enough medication for their whole trip and noting both brand and generic names -- with dosages -- of all drugs, says the Journal.

Source: Marilyn Chase, "Buying the Wrong Medicine Overseas," Wall Street Journal, August 16, 2005.

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