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Of Course People Can't Name Their Medications

By James Donahue

A Reuters News report notes that most patients cannot give an accurate account of what drugs they are taking. The story said about 40 percent of 119 patients receiving blood pressure medicine could not accurately recall the names of the drugs they were taking. That number jumped to 60 percent among patients with "low health literacy," which probably includes most people.

Those of us who are on a medication routine understand how this can be a problem. When we end up in the emergency room, for example, it is vital for the staff to know if we are on blood pressure, blood thinner, or any other kinds of medicine for a wide variety of ailments. Without this information, the ER doctors don't dare treat us for other problems because many prescription drugs interact with one another.

So why don't we remember the medicine we are gulping down regularly every day?

The problem appears quite simple. Insurance companies now insist that we purchase generic brands instead of non-generic when we get prescriptions filled. And if you look at the names of some of these generic brands, we can hardly pronounce the drug, let alone remember how to spell it.

For example, people receiving Plavix, a blood thinner, are getting pills with a label that says: Clopidogrel Bisulfate, and a prescription for the sleep aid Sonata will say Zaleplon on the label. Some of the names we see on our own script bottles are long and impossible for most of us to pronounce. Pharmacies are using the chemical names of the drugs we buy when we go generic, and these can be real tongue-twisters.

Remembering the names of the pills swallowed daily can get even more complex as people age. As the years pile on, so do the medical problems. And some medications create a need for other medicine to counter the effects caused the the first pill. Thus it is common for seniors to start their day swallowing a cup filled with pills, and continue to take pills regularly throughout the day.

There are two ways to help remedy this problem.

The drugmakers could create new and simple, one-syllable names for their generic pills.

We can start carrying a list of medicine we take so if we end up in an emergency situation, the treating physician will have all of the information at his fingertips. Medical bracelets or other jewelry items might also work if they can be updated regularly.