May I take exception to certain matters in an otherwise carefully wrought article on the naming of drugs {Jan. 19}?

The article's parenthetical assertion that a so-called generic name is "derived from the chemical compound that forms the basis of the drug" is journalistic hyperbole worthy of pharmaceutical industry promotion. It is simply untrue. No chemist, not even a PhD organic chemist with wide experience, could ever envision the structure of an organic compound (i.e., its molecular composition) from its "generic" name.

The "generic" name, which is an Edward Lear-like nonsense word, was designed for another purpose entirely, the genesis of which was the Thalidomide disaster. Thus, physicians, after having prescribed one brand of that drug and then being informed of adverse side effects by their respective patients, would, thinking they were prescribing a different drug in order to avoid those side effects, unknowingly prescribe that very same drug but under a different brand name! In 1963, the Kefauver-Harris Amendments to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, as Amended, mandated one "generic" name that would be common to any one drug irrespective of how many different brand names (trademark names) it would acquire during its lifetime. (In response to this requirement, the pharmaceutical industry mounted a massive effort to undermine this concept, alleging, for example, fanciful medical differences, which is to say, superiority of brand-name drugs over their respective "generic" equals.)

Because of this legal requirement in naming drugs, the pharmaceutical industry devises multi-syllabled, cumbersome, and difficult-to-remember, nonsense "generic" names in stark contrast to the short and staccato brand names that have at most two, rarely three, syllables and that roll trippingly off the tongue and are easily remembered. There is not, nor has there ever been, any relationship between a brand name and its "generic" name.

Burton L. Appleton

Alexandria Questioning the Alcoholic

Don Colburn's report of the need for improved questioning to identify alcoholism, "Asking the Wrong Questions," calls attention to an important deficiency in current diagnostic methods {The Cutting Edge, Jan. 5}.

Answers to the suggested questions "Have you ever had a drinking problem?" and "When was your last drink?" are indeed more precise indicators of pathology. I believe, however, that the expression "drinking problem" provides a convenient way out for individuals who either consciously or unconsciously deny their alcohol dependency -- and, contrary to the quotation from the Rhode Island study, denial seems to be the single, almost universal barrier to treatment for a high proportion of alcoholics.

A more precise question, which would provide more accurate identification, would be: "Within the past year, have you had any family, social, financial, legal, school or work problems related to your drinking?"

The doctors may know what they mean by "drinking problem," but many alcoholics don't view it as a drinking problem at all.

William N. Butler


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