January 5, 2024

What’s in a name?


Welcome to the first installment of UH EMS-I’s Pharmacy Phriday for 2024! We hope you had a safe holiday season and are looking forward to a safe year in 2024!!


With the New Year comes our annual protocol updates. UH’s updated protocol for 2024 is now available HERE and can be downloaded as a PDF on your devices. Many of these changes will be reviewed in the monthly continuing education provided in your stations during January. 


One of the changes you may quickly notice is how medications are listed within the protocol. As you may recall from your initial EMS training, medications have several names. We usually refer to a medication by its generic or trade name within EMS. Often, we confuse which name is which. Think seizures; we think Versed. Is that the generic or trade name? Answer: trade name. Think pain management; we think fentanyl. Is that the generic or trade name? Answer: generic name. Think nausea; we think Zofran. Generic or trade? Answer: trade name.


Medications have four names: the chemical name, the generic name, the trade name, and the official name. The chemical name of a medication describes its atomic and molecular structures and is often complex and difficult to recall. An example would include 2-(diphenylmethoxy)-N, N-dimethylethanamine. Any idea what drug this might be?

Once a medication is developed and going to market, it is assigned a generic name by a group called the United States Adopted Name Council. The generic name is a unique nonproprietary name and often is an abbreviated version of the chemical name. An example of a generic name would include diphenhydramine. The official name of a medication is often the same as the generic name, followed by the initials USP or NF.


Trade names of medications are names chosen by the manufacturer and used for marketing purposes. Trade names are copyrighted and capitalized. An example of a trade name would include Benadryl. The use of a generic name compared with a brand name when filling a prescription can sometimes cause issues within a commercial pharmacy. The problem within EMS referring to a medication using its trade name can sometimes occur when the brand is no longer available or is supplied in our drug boxes as a more cost-effective generic alternative. One might be focused on searching for Benadryl in the drug box when all they will find is diphenhydramine. 


Following pharmacy initiatives to use generic names exclusively, the 2024 UH EMS protocols have removed almost all references to trade names of medications within the algorithms and pharmacology sections. This change may be difficult at first, but with a little effort, these changes can provide coordination and continuity with our healthcare team partners and provide a more exact patient care report.

Once again, Happy New Year! And as always, stay safe!


The UH EMS-I Team

University Hospitals