Forget The Colour, Shape Or Brand: It's The Active Ingredient That Counts

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24th August 2009, 10:00am - Views: 678

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23 August 2009 

Forget the colour, shape or brand: it’s the active ingredient that counts

Knowing the active ingredient in your medicine can be critical to avoiding accidentally taking more

medicine than you need.

Each year more than 140,000 people are admitted to hospital because of problems with their

medicine, many of which could have been avoided through better knowledge about their medicine.

The active ingredient in a medicine is what provides the therapeutic effect, i.e. what makes the

medicine work in the body. Most medicines are known by the brand name rather than the active

ingredient, and can be marketed under several different brand names. 

“When you purchase a prescription or non prescription medicine you might be offered a different

brand to what you have used before,” NPS CEO Dr Lynn Weekes said. 

“Many people identify their medicines by colour and shape, but if you switch brands and the

medicine doesn’t look exactly the same, you could mistakenly think it’s something different. By not

identifying the active ingredient you might accidentally end up taking a double dose or not enough of


For example, many cold and flu medicines contain an active ingredient which provides pain relief.

Some people take paracetamol or ibuprofen in addition to this without realising they are taking a

double dose. 

GP and media personality, Dr John D’Arcy says many problems relating to medicine mix-ups are

due to dosage mistakes.

“I’ve seen many patients who have become unwell because they took too much or too little of their

medicine, or they took it at the wrong time. Get to know your medicines – learn what the active

ingredient is, and start a Medicines List to keep track of all the medicines you are taking,” Dr D’Arcy


To help people quickly identify the active ingredient in prescription medicines, NPS has developed

the NPS Medicine Name Finder. When a brand name is entered into the online tool, the active

ingredient name appears, and when the active ingredient is entered its brand names appear.

People are then prompted to record their medicine details on a downloadable Medicines List or

print the information. A link is also provided to the Consumer Medicine Information (CMI) leaflet

which contains more details about the medicine. The Medicine Name Finder can also be saved as a

google gadget to your desktop so you can access it with one click.

“The safest way to manage your medicines is to keep a Medicines List and show it to your doctor

and pharmacist each visit. Ask them to point out the important information on the medicine label.

This also provides a second check for the health professional to ensure they have prescribed or

dispensed the correct dosage,” Dr Weekes said.

NPS Medicines Lists and the NPS Medicine Name Finder are available to download for free at



Media enquiries to Katie Butt, NPS Media Adviser, 0419 618 365 or 

The National Prescribing Service Limited (NPS) is an independent, not-for-profit organisation for quality use of

medicines funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.

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