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Even with the best of memorization skills or mnemonic devices, it would be unlikely to remember all the different drug names on the market. Instead, the agencies and organizations that determine the names of pharmaceutical drugs have systems in place to help guide any healthcare worker through understanding what a drug is meant to treat by its generic name. Knowing these varying systems will help you navigate the vast world of pharmaceutical medications and make sure that patients under your care stay safe and receive the proper medication.

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We’ve discussed the different names a single medication has and how it pertains to different people through the development of that drug. We learned that the chemical name of a drug indicates a drug’s chemistry or molecular structure, which is helpful for someone working to develop new medications in a lab. The generic and brand names are then chosen and undergo scrutiny and approval from agencies like the FDA and WHO. As we prepare for this week’s assignment, let’s delve a little deeper into the naming of pharmaceutical drugs, particularly generic names chosen. We’ll cover how these drugs might offer clues to their function or hint at potential adverse effects.

Drug Names According to Use
Even if you’ve never taken a Latin class, you’ve likely heard of connections between the dead language and our everyday communication. Greek and Latin roots, like aqua which refers to water, make up vocabulary like aquarium. This same idea can be applied to the generic or non-proprietary names of drugs.

The job of finding names that offer clues to a drug’s function lies with the United States Adopted Names Council (USAN). The council is made up of the American Medical Association (AMA), the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), the FDA, and the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP). The USAN also works with the WHO to make sure that a created drug name can translate across the globe.
The naming of drugs goes through this extensive scrutiny and review for patient safety. It’s estimated that over a million Americans fall ill, are injured, or even die because of errors with prescribing or dispensing of their medication.

Part of these errors is because of LASAs, which stands for look-alikes, sound-alikes. Creating names that are clearly distinct from each other is part of ensuring the safety of patients and a measure to prevent any mix-ups or errors in prescribing medicine or how much someone should take (Scutti, 2016).

Among all these organizations, the council works to take the complex chemistry of a drug and boil it down to standard stems that make up the prefix, suffix, or infix of the generic name. Let’s look at an example: the stem -oxetine is often associated with antidepressants:
Image of: generic and brand names of antidepressants
All these drugs share the same stem -oxetine and all function as “selective serontonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI)” (“What’s in a Generic Name?” 2017).
Let’s look at another example. A drug that is a beta-blocker is used to control heart rhythm by reducing blood pressure. Their stem is -olol.

Image of: generic and brand names of beta-blockers
While drugs with this stem can be used for many different reasons, a healthcare worker familiar with these stems might see the -olol stem and recognize these drugs are primarily used to treat heart failure, cardiac arrhythmias, and hypertension. At the same time, a healthcare worker might see the stem and also understand the adverse effects a patient might experience from taking these medications: bradycardia (abnormally slow heart rate) and hypotension (abnormally low blood pressure).
Drug Names According to Classification
Not only can a drug’s function or use be found in the clues of its name, but it can help define the classifications of drugs. A classification of a drug refers to the groups of drugs that share similarities. According to the FDA, there are a few methods that help determine these groups or classifications (“Pharmacologic Class,” 2018):
Mechanism of Action (MOA)
Physiologic Effect (PE)
Chemical Structure (CS)
The mechanism of action can refer to the “specific biochemical reaction that occurs when you take a drug,” and the physiologic effect refers to the body’s response to the drug (Bihari, 2020).
The WHO also created a multi-layered method for classifying pharmaceutical drugs called the Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical Classification System (ATC). It’s broken into five levels (Bihari, 2020):
Level One: Describes the organ system the drug treats
Level Two: Describes the drug’s therapeutic effect
Level Three: Describes the mechanism or mode of action
Level Four: Describes the general chemical properties of the drug
Level Five: Describes the chemical components that make up the drug (essentially the chemical name of the drug)
Thirdly, the USP (the United States Pharmacopeia) also has a broad list of therapeutic classes. This classification system is based on:
Therapeutic use
Mechanism of action
Formulary classification (a formulary refers to a list of drugs covered within a healthcare plan)
This broad classification produces almost fifty classes for a drug to fall under:
Image of: therapeutic classes
(Bihari, 2020)
Because there are hundreds of thousands of drugs on the market and new ones being developed all the time, there’s no single, rigid classification system that holds every medication. And in some cases, certain drugs can fit into multiple classifications or be used “off-label.” This means that a drug can treat something other than what it was approved for. An example of this is the drug levothyroxine. It’s approved to treat hypothyroidism (low thyroid function), but it can also be a treatment for depression (Bihari, 2020). The classification systems we’ve discussed here are still helpful tools no matter what path your healthcare career takes you. They offer you clues to find the right drug in an ever-expanding and diversifying world of pharmaceutical medications.
Bihari, M. MD. (2020, March 26). Drug classes: making sense of medication classification. Verywell health. Retrieved June 23, 2020. (Links to an external site.)
Scutti, S. (2016, November 25). ‘Creation engineering’: the art and science of naming drugs. CNN health. Retrieved June 23, 2020. (Links to an external site.)
What’s in a generic name? clues about the drug’s use and possible adverse effects. (2017, March 9). ISMP. Retrieved June 22, 2020. (Links to an external site.)
Sources of Information
Beta blockers (2019, August 16). Mayo clinic. Retrieved June 23, 2020. (Links to an external site.)
Collier, R. (2014, October 7). The art and science of naming drugs. CMAJ. Retrieved June 23, 2020. (Links to an external site.)
As a healthcare worker, you will need to understand how drugs will impact your patient population and employees. For this assignment, you will create a training plan for your staff on how to properly handle medications that would be found in a stock cabinet (samples and acute care). Research common acute care medications in your field and create a PowerPoint presentation of the top ten medications with their Brand Name(s), generic name, and the approved use to present to your employees. Be sure to identify how the drug name can give insight into the class or use.
Your presentation should be a minimum of ten slides with at least two references and images with author’s notes. Each slide is required to have author’s notes that provide an explanation of the information presented in the PowerPoint.
Your file submission should be named Lastname_Firstname_Assignment_1

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