Reading labels

Reading labels.jpg

A commercial has been on television lately advertising the perks program of a certain drug, and it compels me to put on my medical writing hat. With every box of this drug that you buy there’s a perk inside that apparently makes the drug worth buying in case you had any doubt about buying it for its ability to alleviate the troubling condition from which you sought relief in the first place. I know the power of perk programs. I recently succumbed to the pull of one for another type of product, a nonpharmaceutical, and admit its effect is to make me choose that product preferentially rather than others in its genre when I run out and need to restock. 

The problem with the commercial’s advertisement of this specific drug’s perk program is that this drug should never be taken for more than 14 days or more often than every four months. Mr. or Ms Consumer should not be going back and back to the drugstore, this time trying for the steak dinner with a purchase, and two weeks later trying for a free spa appointment. If the condition that this drug addresses doesn’t go away in 14 days, you are supposed to stop taking it and see your clinician. Reading the box will tell you this but it’s not what the commercial or even the existence of a perk program implies.

Your clinician and pharmacist should tell you the full story of any drug you’re taking or considering taking; in addition or alternatively, as in all areas of life, you can educate yourself to a large degree. Everything about how and why a drug is supposed to be taken is included in the drug’s product “label” (also called prescribing or product information). It’s not really a label, like one that is glued to a box or bottle, but a multi-page document that details everything about the drug, including its chemical makeup, relevant clinical trial data, dosing instructions, known and potential side effects, and more. (For over-the-counter drugs, the label is not as detailed.) Every word in the label is carefully controlled and must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. As an addendum to the label, there is often a patient medication guide that reiterates what consumers most need to know in easy-to-understand terms. 

Anyone can access these drug labels; you don’t have to be a healthcare professional. Go to this advertising-free site operated  by the National Library of Medicine: DailyMed. Enter the generic or trade name of the drug in question in the search box and go from there.