Using plain language will become a requirement on all prescription and non-prescription drug labels, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced on Friday.

In a new government initiative aimed at preventing adverse drug reactions and medication errors, Health Canada will use different ways to make medication easier to understand, including standardizing the format of non-prescription drug labels (such as a 'Drug Facts' table) and requiring manufacturers to provide mock-ups of labels and packages for review.

Manufacturers will also be asked to give evidence that drug names will not be confused with other authorized products on the market and include contact information on labels so that users can report problems and adverse drug reactions.

According to Health Canada, as many as 1 in 9 emergency room visits are related to drug adverse events, and 68 per cent of these visits are preventable. Patients often suffer because of drug labels, packaging or names that they've misunderstood.

"Drug labels are as important as traffic lights. They are as important as fire alarms. This is a generational change. What the Minister is announcing today will save hundreds of lives a year," said Terence Young, Member of Parliament for Oakville.

Health Canada plans to roll out the changes in phases beginning with prescription and then non-prescription drugs after a 75-day consultation process over the summer and publication of regulatory changes in the Canada Gazette, Part II.