Drug Name Discrepancies

Did you know that APAP is a recognized abbreviation for “N-acetyl-para-aminophenol”?


Figuring out medical abbreviations can be challenging. And to make things more complicated, the above drug has two official generic names:


  • Acetaminophen — This is the designation we use in the US.

  • Paracetamol — This is the most common denomination outside of the US.


Why is that?


The World Health Organization coordinates the so-called International Nonproprietary Name (INN) system to make communication more precise and avoid prescribing errors by providing a unique standard name for each active ingredient.


That is important because a drug may be sold by many different brand names — or a branded medication may contain more than one drug.


Do people in your country refer to the drug above by any of its generic names? Or do they use brand names instead?



In the US, acetaminophen (paracetamol) is available over-the-counter under brand names such as Tylenol or Mapap and as generics and store-specific brands. In my opinion, most people here refer to it as Tylenol.


Additionally, acetaminophen is available in many over-the-counter combination medications with other drugs and can be found in many prescription combination drugs.


In an ideal world, all countries would follow the INN system. In reality, however, there are discrepancies.


Countries may have their own nomenclature committees. Here we have the United States Adopted Name (USAN) Council, which assigns unique nonproprietary names to medications marketed in our country.


Besides the acetaminophen/paracetamol difference, here are other discrepancies:


  • glibenclamide (INN) vs. glyburide (USAN)

  • isoprenaline (INN) vs. isoproterenol (USAN)

  • orciprenaline (INN) vs. metaproterenol (USAN)

  • pethidine (INN) vs. meperidine (USAN)

  • salbutamol (INN) vs. albuterol (USAN)


Do you know of any other discrepancies between international and country-specific generic names for drugs? If you are a writer or a translator, what challenges do you generally encounter?


I look forward to reading your comments!

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