Neuro experts call for drug name shake-up; manufacturers more cautious

By Fiona BARRY

- Last updated on GMT

Fluoxetine 20mg: under new rules, Prozac would no longer be called an 'antidepressant'. (Picture: Tom Varco/Flickr)
Fluoxetine 20mg: under new rules, Prozac would no longer be called an 'antidepressant'. (Picture: Tom Varco/Flickr)

Related tags: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor

Psychiatric drugs should be renamed according to their chemical make-up, not the symptoms they treat, according to leading neuropsychopharmacologists.

At the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology conference in Berlin, doctors from the Universities of Cambridge and Tel Aviv said changing the names of mental health drugs will stop patient confusion and make classifications more understandable to prescribers.

While official WHO terminology is based on drug main indication – antidepressants for depression and antipsychotics for psychosis – patients can receive these medicines for other conditions – an antipsychotic for anxiety disorder, for instance.

The paper’s authors argued “in psychiatry, drug names can cause more problems than they solve,​” and the “stigma​” of being prescribed an antipsychotic can make patients more anxious or lead them to stop taking it.

Bit of a mouthful? The view from AstraZeneca

But manufacturers had reservations about introducing longer, complex names. AstraZeneca told in-Pharmatechnologist.com all its production lines for packaging and labelling are built to support the existing naming system.

If this system was to be radically changed, with substantially longer product names, we might need larger packages in order to fit the full text. That would be challenging from an environment point of view, as well as it would likely mean further investments in production lines,​” said spokesman Jacob Lund.

Under the authors’ plans, drug names will have four components, made up of descriptions of 1) the pharmacological target and mode of action; 2) approved indications, 3) efficacy and side effects; and 3) neurobiology.

For instance, fluoxetine (Prozac) is classified as an antidepressant, but is also used for bulimia and other indications. Under the proposed rules it would be named as follows:

1.       Class / mechanism:

Serotonin reuptake inhibitor

2.       Indications:

Major depressive disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, bulimia nervosa, panic disorder

3.       Efficacy:

Improves symptoms of depression and anxiety and reduces compulsive behaviour and obsessional thoughts.
Side effects:  GI symptoms, anxiety, changes in sleep early in treatment, sexual dysfunction

4.       A description of neurotransmitter actions and brain circuits

The scientists admitted their naming system was complicated, and launched a beta version of an app to help doctors at the conference.  

Lead author Josef Zohar, Tel Aviv, said drug naming had not changed in 50 years. "As an analogy, I mostly use my smartphone to type SMS text messages, yet I would not call it a 'typewriter', as I would have in the 1960’s; the names need to reflect our contemporary knowledge. If this is true of electronics, it is certainly true of medicines.”

The UK mental health charity Mind told us it is aware of some people who feel stigma from drug names, “in particular ‘antipsychotics’.​”

The idea that the drug naming system could change is interesting as it could - potentially - remove this stigma for some patients,​” said spokesman Sam Challis.

On the other hand, this process would need to be carefully explored and communicated very clearly and in consultation with existing patients, as there is a risk that some patients may become confused if they are used to the current naming.​"

The WHO was unavailable for comment on its classification system before publication.

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