Kitchener-Waterloo

Improved labelling coming for over-the-counter and prescription drugs

New Health Canada regulations will help make it easier to read the fine print on prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications like cough syrup, allergy medications and pain relievers.

New Health Canada regulations will make it easier to read the fine print

All over-the-counter drugs, including cough syrups, pain relievers and allergy medication, will have to carry the new drug facts table by 2021, but Health Canada said manufacturers may choose to include them sooner than that deadline.

New Health Canada regulations will help make it easier to read the fine print on cough syrup, allergy medication and pain relievers. 

The change is for both prescription and non-prescription drugs, but it's expected to have the biggest effect on consumers trying to select over-the-counter medication when it comes into effect beginning a year from now.

We're always worried about patient safety, so any way of getting this information better to our patients, is of course a win.- Satish Mistry,  Westmount Place Pharmacy in Waterloo, Ont.

"Every product varies, you're squinting at some, others are in big bold letters, it really varies by the manufacturer," said pharmacist Satish Mistry, who owns Westmount Place Pharmacy in Waterloo, Ont. 

"So this will make sure all the information is in one spot, it will have the directions of use, the ingredients and any warning information the customers might need."

The new packaging, announced last week, will feature a standardized drug facts table on the outer labels of non-prescription drugs, similar to the nutrition facts table on food said David U, president and CEO of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices Canada. The guidelines were developed collaboratively by Health Canada and the Institute.

"In the the supermarket, you look at the back of chips ... you see a table showing you some of the information which is easier and clearer to the consumer. We tried to do the same thing for, say, a bottle of acetaminophen."

The new labels will also include recommended dosage and contact information for where to call if someone has questions or adverse reactions to the medication.

Here's an example of what the new labels will look like:

This sample drug facts table is for a product containing the active ingredient guaifenesin. All over-the-counter products will contain this kind of labelling starting in June 2017. (Health Canada)

Overlapping ingredients can be toxic

Right now, one in nine emergency room visits are from people misusing medications, according to the Canadian Medical Association.

"The concern for pharmacists, or any health-care practitioner, is there's products on the market that may have a different brand name but they have overlapping ingredients," said Mistry. 

By combining numerous non-prescription drugs, people may accidentally take dangerously high doses of certain medications — like acetaminophen, which is often included in cold and flu medication, cough syrups and used as a pain reliever. 

Part of the problem, said Mistry, is people often don't take the time to consult with a pharmacist, or other health-care practitioner, before selecting an over-the-counter medication.

The changes will make that information easier to access. 

"We're always worried about patient safety, so any way of getting this information better to our patients, is of course a win," Mistry said.

All new products will have to display the facts table by June, 2017. Existing non-prescription medications will have until June 30, 2021, but Health Canada said individual manufacturers may choose to incorporate the tables sooner than that. 

With files from the CBC's Carmen Ponciano

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