KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf
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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Copyediting Drug Names

Medical editors aren't the only ones who have to deal with drug names in the manuscripts they edit. In this guest post, my colleague Laura Poole, who is such a talented editor that she teaches newcomers to the trade, shares her strategies for handling drug names in nonmedical manuscripts.


My first job after college was with a company that developed training for pharmaceutical sales reps, and it taught me a lot about trademarked drug names. In the materials we created, we had to make sure the drug name was handled correctly every time it appeared—that is, with any unique registered marks and trademarks, capitalization, hyphenation, or other symbols. I remember my boss specifically saying, "Make sure the drug name isn't hyphenated at the end of a line, because that constitutes trademark violation, and they could sue us!"

Thankfully, I no longer have to worry so much about that kind of accuracy. However, that knowledge of and sensitivity to these terms has come in handy over the years as I branched out to work in scholarly nonfiction. I come across materials that are nonscientific or nonmedical in nature that reference particular drugs. Major style guides have some rules for how to handle trademarked terms, but I feel that drug names are a bit of a special case. (Maybe I'm still paranoid from that first job.) So I've developed a variety of alternatives when I encounter brand-name drugs in materials I edit.

My two preferred style guides, Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition [CMS]) and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition [APA]), have the following to say.

CMS 8.145: Generic names of drugs, which should be used wherever possible in preference to brand names, are lowercased. Brand names must be capitalized; they are often enclosed in parentheses after the first use of the generic name.

The patient takes weekly injections of interferon beta-1a (Avonex) to control his multiple sclerosis.

CMS 8.152: Although the symbols ® and ™ . . . often accompany trademark names on product packaging and in promotional material, there is no legal requirement to use these symbols, and they should be omitted wherever possible.

APA 4.16, similar to CMS, states that trade and brand names of drugs should be capitalized (generics should be lowercase).

An issue is that many brand names have become common language. Just as Kleenex and Xerox have entered our lexicon and are used in a loose way these days, we throw around common or well-known drug names such as Viagra, Prozac, and Claritin. Sometimes it serves the text to be able to further identify these substances; alternatively, it might improve the text to do away with the trade names where possible. So beyond the CMS and APA guidelines, I find a few other options to be useful choices, and I outline them here.

First, when encountering a drug name in text, look it up online to confirm correct spelling, any hyphenation that needs to be retained, and the generic name of the drug. You can almost always find more information by typing www.[drugname].com into your browser.

If the drug is mentioned in passing only once or twice, you might be able to substitute the broad type or class of drug for a brand name or a generic name. For instance, if the brand name or generic name isn't key to the narrative, "John takes Prozac" might easily be changed to "John takes an antidepressant" or "John takes a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor" (a bit of a mouthful!). Other examples:

  • Sally takes ACE inhibitors to treat her high blood pressure.
  • The pharmacist filled a prescription for a calcium channel blocker.
  • The doctor prescribed antipsychotics to decrease hallucinations.
  • Antibiotics are used to treat most ear infections.
  • Antiretrovirals are effective at treating HIV.
If you can use the generic to identify the drug (i.e., the brand name isn't key to the discussion) in almost all cases, then do so, and follow the CMS and APA guidelines. Thus, "John takes Prozac" might be changed, in this case, to "John takes fluoxetine," and you would continue to use fluoxetine every time it appears. If you're following CMS, you would say, "John takes fluoxetine (Prozac)." This gives a bit of a hat tip to the brand name, and you only need to identify it at first use. Examples:

  • Anne takes propranolol (Inderal) to treat her panic disorder.
  • Joe took methadone (Dolophine) as part of his rehab program.
  • The doctor prescribed a maintenance dose of levothyroxine (Synthroid).
You can also reverse this and primarily use the brand name, identifying the generic at first mention in parentheses. Save this for when the brand name itself might be more important to the text, or for those times when the generic name might be very long and it is shorter to use the brand name. Examples:

  • The doctor usually prescribed Haldol (haloperidol) for her patients with schizophrenia.
  • The gold standard of treatment for edema is Lasix (furosemide). [Note: These first two are examples are cases in which the brand name has entered the lexicon and is very well known.]
  • Viagra (sildenafil) is the most well-known of the so-called lifestyle drugs. [Note: In this case you definitely need the brand name because the text discusses a specific product.]
  • Phil Mickelson endorses Enbrel (etanercept). [Note: This one must retain the trade name because Mickelson is endorsing a specific brand-name product.]
  • Cialis is a competitor drug to Viagra.
  • BiDil (isosorbide dinitrate and hydralazine) is considered a commercial failure. [Note: The brand name is under discussion; also, the generic name is very long, so the trade name would be shorter and handier to use.]
Sometimes I hedge my bets with a parenthetical statement or addition to a footnote that indicates manufacturer information. This would be appropriate for certain materials—for instance, a text that compares various drugs that treat a particular condition, or material that discusses the pharmaceutical industry at large. Here are some examples:

  • Sildenafil (sold by Pfizer under the trade name Viagra) is a blockbuster drug.
  • Viagra (sildenafil; Pfizer) is a lifestyle drug.
  • When its patent protection ran out, zidovudine (originally marketed as Retrovir by Burroughs-Wellcome) was soon available in a generic version.

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Laura Poole is the owner of Archer Editorial Services, providing professional copyediting to scholarly publishers. She is also the cofounder of Editorial Bootcamp, which provides online and in-person training for copyeditors and publishers.

Where to find Laura: editorial trainingeditorial servicesbusiness coaching






6 comments:

WordzGuy said...

>"Make sure the drug name isn't hyphenated at the end of a line, because that constitutes trademark violation, and they could sue us!"

Is that actually true? Are there cases where someone was sued (or issued a cease-and-desist) for making a normal word break? Dang.

Coach Laura said...

WordzGuy, I don't know if it's actually true, but it's what I was told. Perhaps my boss was trying to scare us into being diligent. Because we were working directly for the pharma companies, we had to tread very carefully and fully respect their product names and trademarks. I don't know if there are any cases of lawsuits over this specific issue (a quick Google search didn't turn up anything). I'm sure the pharma companies would at least complain if we hyphenated it at the end of a line!

WordzGuy said...

>"I'm sure the pharma companies would at least complain if we hyphenated it at the end of a line!"

Well, I wonder, which is why I asked. Hyphenating a term at the end of a line is a standard text-formatting issue that it would take a very narrow mind to interpret as a misuse of a copyrighted name. We deal with copyrighted names all the time in the texts I edit, and our legal department is relaxed enough about the force of their blanket copyright notice that we're not even required to add bugs to the names on first mention. (And I work for a company that is a rich target for lawsuits.) I'll have to arrange to bump into a copyright lawyer one of these days and ask about this.

Emily O said...

Medical writing is absolutely fascinating to me. Posts like these lend insight into life as a medical copyeditor, which is so valuable to a new freelancer looking for her niche like me. Thank you for sharing, and please continue!

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Hey, Emily, thanks for stopping by. If there are any specific topics that you'd like me to address here, please feel free to write to me at editormom@kokedit.com to suggest them.

Jim Martin said...

Excellent. Very helpful! Many thanks. Jim Martin

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