Please, Don’t Say Prozac

May 27, 2011 Natasha Tracy

Recently I read a great article on the use of brand names when referring to drugs. The author, a doctor, decries the practice and says doctors should use the name of the drug rather than the brand name. The brand name of the drug, after all, was chosen by a marketer and a focus group and is really just advertising for the drug.

The only trouble is, patients don't know, or can't remember, the actual names for drugs.

The Real Drug Name

As I mentioned last time, Merck created the brand name “Vasotec” for their drug enalapril. You might have noticed that “enalapril” is actually derived, to some extent, from the chemical compound itself. Useful to a chemist perhaps, but not too meaningful to me.

And because these names are assigned, and somewhat based on a chemical formula, they are really tough to remember. Here are a few common psychotropic drugs:

  • Fluoxetine – Prozac
  • Sertraline - Zoloft
  • Desvenlafaxine – Pristiq
  • Quetiapine – Seroquel
  • Olanzapine – Zyprexa
  • Ziprasidone - Geodon

Two of my favorites are carbamazepine and oxcarbazepine because for the life of me, I always get them confused (Tegretol and Trileptal). Some of these names are even impossible to say, see aripiprazole (Abilify).


He’s Right, Drug Names Are Ads

But the doctor’s point is well taken. Drug names are selected to make you, the patient, choose that drug. They are chosen to make you feel good about that drug. They are chosen to make the company more money. (And yes, this stuff really works, no matter how above advertising you think you are.)

Some examples:

  • Sarafem (a form of Prozac for women with severe PMS) – the angelic “seraphim” and “fem” for feminine
  • Lipitor – from “lipid regulator”
  • Viagra – vital (think Niagra Falls)

And naturally, the last reason anyone should take a drug is because of branding.

Using the real name instead of the brand name does make more sense and the real name sure produces less of an emotional response. “Oh, did you know desvenlafaxine is out now. So what? When is Pristiq available?”

But Patients Have a Lot to Contend With Already

The trouble is, patients have enough to remember already. If someone asked you what you were on and you had to say “desvenlafaxine” it would probably come out like, “you know, devenyl-something.” Which isn’t of too much use when a doctor is checking drug-drug interactions. No computer searches for devenyl-something.

Basically the doctor is right, but which is easier to remember, Tylenol or acetaminophen?

I’ll Try to Give Drug Names

For my part, I’m going to try to use drug names and put the brand names in brackets, because he’s right, even the names themselves are an advertisement. However, I see no way of reasonably getting away from them.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take some naproxen and lay down; I have a headache (Aleve).

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2011, May 27). Please, Don’t Say Prozac, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, April 21 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

November, 2 2012 at 1:24 pm

I think I'm more science minded, but all but one of my friends commonly says what. I did the research because of adverse reactions. Knowledge is power. Thank you again for all you cover and research. I would love to read even half of what you do.

May, 30 2011 at 5:35 am

The real formal names of the drugs, their chemical names. which identify them beyond any doubt, are often unpronounceable and cumbersome. Most scientist use what are called "trivial names" to refer to the chemical quickly in conversations or notes. But even these names are sometimes difficult to the general public public, so there is the third name you mentioned created by marketers and tested with focus groups. The good thing is that they are easier for the patient to pronounce and recognize however, they are advertisements. Each of these levels of naming serves different purposes, but I think the important thing is that, whatever name is used, the end-user gets the right drug, that trumps all other considerations.

May, 30 2011 at 2:16 am

I get all my meds from the VA, and all they normally give are generics, so I never see the brand names anymore. Well, the migraine meds they have weren't doing me well, so my VA doc was able to get me some Relpax. As I type this, I have no clue what it's generic name is.

May, 30 2011 at 1:29 am

I also try to remember the real name, especially because I am allergic to quite a few Psychotropics and I don't trust all doctors enough to believe they won't give me something I am allergic of. I mean, with all the drug companies out there, you get a whole lot of brand names for fluoxetine.
(Prozac, Nuzak, Flutinol, Lorien, Prohexal, Rezak, etc) So I am allergic to all of them.
But I have to admit: I get SO confused most of the times. A lot of the names sound a lot the same, so I mix them up: Clozapine, Chlorpromazine, Carbamazepine....
So most of the time, when speaking about my meds, I tend to talk about the brand name. Way easier to remember, don't you think?

Natasha Tracy
May, 27 2011 at 2:00 pm

That's what I said.
- Natasha

May, 27 2011 at 1:46 pm

Don't you mean to say naproxen?

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