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Labelling and packaging practices: A summary of some of the evidence

Version 1.0, January 2013

21 January 2013

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Active ingredient prominence

Research conducted by the Consumers Health Forum (2009) identified strong demand from consumers for improved prominence of the active ingredient on both prescription and non-prescription medicines and has argued that this could lead to improved safety and quality use of medicines. Together with improvements to labelling, through increased active ingredient prominence, it is recognised that health literacy and education are important factors for reducing the risk of confusion associated with medicines (Sorensen et al, 2005; Consumers Health Forum of Australia, 2009).

The potential for confusion of prescription medicines is increasing as the number of generic alternatives proliferates; proliferation which is fostered by government incentives to use generic medicines (McLachlan, Ramzan & Wilne, 2007; Oritz, Simons & Calcino, 2010).

The greatest risk associated with confusion of this type is overdose, either from the patient not realising two medicines are the same, or from duplicate prescriptions when healthcare professionals also may not have recognised that two medicines are the same (Sorensen et al, 2005; Graudins & Dooley, 2010; Carney et al, 2011, Lalor, 2011).

Whilst much of the work in this area refers to confusion associated with prescription medicines, awareness of the active ingredient impacts on the quality use of medicine and safety of consumers of all classes of medicines (Consumers Health Forum of Australia, 2009; Lalor, 2011).

Consumers also report having trouble with compound medicines, such as cold and flu preparations, as these preparations could have paracetamol or aspirin, which may have negative health consequences for some people (Consumers Health Forum of Australia, 2009).

For further discussion regarding paracetamol and non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) see 'Warnings statements for paracetamol and ibuprofen'.


Carney SL, Gazarian M, Denholm JT et al, What's in a name? Brand name confusion and generic medicines. MJA, 2011;195:650-651.

Consumers Health Forum of Australia, Equal prominence of active ingredient and proprietary names on labels for prescription medicines. Consumers Health Forum of Australia, Canberra, 2009.

Graudins LV & Dooley MJ, Generic medicines literacy – minimising the potential for patient confusion. MJA, 2010;193:427.

Lalor D, Medicines Labelling. Australian Prescriber, 2011;34:136-138.

McLachlan AJ, Ramzan I, Wilne RW, Frequently asked questions about generic medicines. Australian Prescriber, 2007;30:41-43.

Ortiz M, Simons LA, Calcino G, Generic substitution of commonly used medications: Australia-wide experience, 2007-2008. MJA, 2010;192:370-373.

Sorensen L, Stokes JA, Purdie DM, et al, Medication management at home: medication-related risk factors associated with poor health outcomes. Age and Ageing, 2005;34:626-632.

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