An ancient proverb tells us that a good name is better than great riches. But many of today's over-the-counter drug makers see a good name as the path to wealth.
Actifed, Alka Seltzer, Anacin, Bayer, Benadryl, Maalox, Midol and Tylenol are just a few of the familiar brands being applied to a wide range of products.
Once upon a time you could walk into a pharmacy and know what you were buying when you purchased a package with a trusted name. Those days are long gone.
Millions of Americans grew up identifying Bayer with aspirin. But anyone who absent-mindedly grabs a box of Bayer Select had best read the label carefully. Bayer Select Pain Relief Formula contains ibuprofen instead of aspirin. Bayer Select Maximum Strength Menstrual contains 500 mg of acetaminophen as its analgesic.
Speaking of pain relievers, one of the best known drug names in history is Tylenol. For years it was synonymous with acetaminophen. Although it is still a mainstay in Tylenol products, there are so many other drugs included in Tylenol formulations people can easily become confused.
At last count, there were more than 20 separate Tylenol creations on drugstore shelves. Children's Tylenol Cold Multi Symptom Plus Cough Liquid, for example, contains the decongestant pseudoephedrine, the antihistamine chlorpheniramine and the cough suppressant dextromethorphan in addition to the analgesic acetaminophen.
Many people don't bother to read labels carefully, especially when the brand name is familiar. They might not realize that an unexpected ingredient has made its way into the mix.
A person taking Aspirin Free Excedrin Dual Caplets at the same time as tetracycline could have an infection linger inexplicably. The calcium and magnesium antacids that are part of this pain reliever combination can inactivate the antibiotic.
Nighttime (PM) pain relievers may contain diphenhydramine, a drug that could be a problem for a person with prostate problems. Dextromethorphan is found in many over-the-counter products, including some carrying familiar names such as Alka-Seltzer. It may interact in a dangerous way with prescription drugs, especially anti-depressants such as Marplan, Nardil, Parnate, Paxil and Prozac.
With the exploitation of household names for a wide range of products, consumers can't take anything for granted.
It is no longer enough to buy products based on brand names, even those that Mother and Grandma may have used. For safety's sake, it is more important than ever before for consumers to read labels carefully and know what they are swallowing.
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Dr. Teresa Graedon is a medical anthropologist and nutrition expert.