Why do Drugs have Crazy Names?

Adrian Baciu (freeimages.com)

Everyone agrees that drug names are becoming ever more crazy. For instance, why all those X’s and Z’s in brand names (Pradaxa, Xarelto, Xeljanz, Zyprexa)?

Generic names can be even more mouth-boggling. Can you remember that acetaminophen is the generic name for Tylenol, and can you pronounce it? If you want to get it when visiting Europe, however, you’ll have to ask for paracetamol. Both of those names get their syllables from a chemical name of the compound: para-acetylaminophenol.

But the names of most generics (like brand names) are largely or completely made up and illogical, except that some related drugs share a suffix, such as “-statin” at the end of cholesterol-lowering drugs like simvastatin (Lipitor) or rosuvastatin (Crestor), and “-azepam” for tranquilizers like lorazepam (Ativan) or temazepam (Restoril).

Tongue-twisting generic names are a big problem since the vast majority of drugs are now dispensed as generics, leading to growing concerns that if names are mispronounced or misread and drugs misidentified, patients could be harmed. Avoiding such confusions is one of the rationales for electronic prescriptions. Read the rest of this entry »