IF a person falls ill or has a health problem, when seeking medical treatment, more often than not they are given medicines.
But how well do you know the medicines that you take? Many of us are unsure of the medicines we are taking because there are so many different tablets, capsules, powders, sprays and ointments available in the market for almost all types of illnesses.
By definition, medicines which may be chemicals, biologics or herbal compounds are used for the control, treatment or prevention of disease.
In Malaysia, the manufacture, importation, sales, distribution and use of medicines are under the purview of the Pharmaceutical Services Programme, Ministry of Health Malaysia (MOH) through implementation of the Sales of Drugs Act 1952 and the Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Regulations 1984.
Generally, medicines are safe when taken according to instructions given by doctors and pharmacists. The quality use of medicines can guarantee the efficacy of the treatment regimen provided by your healthcare professional, as well as aid in the prevention of unwanted adverse effects.
It should be pointed out that, before any medicine can be marketed for use in Malaysia, it must first be registered with the Drug Control Authority of Malaysia (DCA). This is done to ensure that the medicines are of good quality, safe and efficacious.
Every medicine that is registered by the DCA has two important features; a MAL registration number (for example MAL20085264A) and a hologram safety label sticker. The authenticity of the medicine can be determined by clicking the ‘Products Search’ available on the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) website (www.npra.gov.my).
Based on the Poisons Act 1952 (Revised 1989), medicines are divided into two categories – Over The Counter medicines (OTC) and Controlled Medicines.
OTC medicines are those that do not need to be prescribed by a doctor or healthcare professional and are therefore easily available in community pharmacies or convenient stores. An example of an OTC medicine is paracetamol, which is commonly used to relieve pain and fever.
Controlled Medicines are divided into “prescription” and “non-prescription” medicines.
Prescription medicines such as antihypertensives, antidiabetics and antibiotics can only be obtained from a hospital, clinic or pharmacy based on a prescription by a doctor. Non-prescription controlled medicines such as certain analgesics (for pain relief), cough syrups and antipruritic creams (used to relieve itching), can be obtained from a pharmacist and do not require a doctor’s prescription.
A MULTITUDE OF OPTIONS
When we discuss the topic of medicines, we normally think of them in the form of tablets and capsules. In fact, medicines come in many different dosage forms. Different dosage forms have different methods of use, and knowing this information is of vital use in controlling, treating, or preventing illness.
Some of the pharmaceutical dosage forms available today include tablets, capsules, lotions, creams, ointments, shampoos, inhalers, injections, eye drops, nasal sprays, suppositories, pessaries and enema.
Most people have difficulty with the names of medicines, which leads to trouble in identifying them. The generic name of a medicine is the chemical name of the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) in the medicines. Knowing the generic name of medicine will help consumers identify their medicines regardless of the many different brands available worldwide.
A brand name or trade name refers to the name given by pharmaceutical manufacturers to their medicines, which differs from one manufacturer to the next even though the API is the same.
For example, the API “Paracetamol” has brand names which include “Panadol”, “Paracil” and “Redamol”.
Not only does the trade name differ, but the colour and shape of similar medicines may vary too, from one manufacturer to another. Patients and consumers are encouraged to know the trade name as well as the generic name of their medicines to avoid potential medication errors which may include taking the wrong medicine or taking two of the same medicines which differ from one another by shape, colour or brand name.
The proper storage of medicines is essential in ensuring that medicines are of quality and efficacious when consumed/used. Although commonly depicted in movies, avoid storing medicines in the bathroom, near a sink, above the window, or in the car because the fluctuating temperatures and humidity in such places will almost certainly damage the medicines. Medicines are best stored in a cool, dry place such as a cabinet or cupboard away from a window.
Medicines can potentially cause harm to children if taken accidentally (mistaken as candy) or without parental supervision. Thus, medicines must always be stored in their original containers, properly closed and away from children.
Always read the labels of dispensed medicines and ask your doctor or pharmacist for clarification if you have any questions about its name, use, what it contains, side effects and how to store it.
If there are any inquiries regarding medicines, please call the National Pharmacy Call Centre (NPCC) at the toll-free line 1800-88-6722, weekdays from 8am to 5pm.
*The writer is a pharmacist with the Ministry of Health, Malaysia.