Rx mix-up effects are costly

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The cost of prescription mistakes from similar-sounding or spelled drug names is much higher than the $1.9 billion in ad revenue marketers spent hawking prescription drugs in 1999, according to an Institute of Medicine study.

Medical errors, including those caused by prescription mix-ups, add up to $8.8 billion annually, the study estimates, and, even if not fatal, create medical complications for 100,000 Americans a year.

Jerry Phillips, director of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration's Office of Postmarketing Drug Risk Assessment, has tightened restrictions in his unit to help cut these costs.


"We now look more closely during the review of the [drug name] application process," says Mr. Phillips, adding this helps prevent names like Celexa, Cerebyx and Celebrex from simultaneously reaching the consumer market. Celexa is an antidepressant, Cerebyx is an antiseizure drug and Celebrex is an anti-inflammatory drug.

Before submitting drug names to the FDA for approval, pharmaceutical marketers do more name testing in the premarketing stage today than they did two years ago, says Robert Day, managing director of Brand Institute's Chicago office, which creates names for several companies.

Testing includes having doctors write sample prescriptions, pharmacists reading them and consumers responding to questionnaires about the sound of the name.


However, the legal department is key to the name selection, says Greg T. Fulton, head of marketing/branded products for Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals.

After Mr. Fulton reviews hundreds of submissions from staff and consulting companies, he says he gives the best 10 to 20 names for a product to the legal department, which conducts a search on similarly spelled names in addition to trademark patents. If company attorneys approve the names, one is chosen and premarket tests are conducted with doctors, pharmacists and consumers.

The legal department conducts phonetic searches, says Pamela May, senior trademark attorney for SmithKline Beecham. She says if the industry had had this system in place a few years ago, a search for Parke-Davis' Celexa would have found names that began not only with "cel" but also "sel."

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