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To prepare for international travel, given the name of a US pharmaceutical drug, I sometimes need to know the name of its equivalent in other countries. How can I do so? E.g., is there any convenient online resource for that?

Searching on Google is quite often inefficient inconclusive. I'd prefer a more systematic and efficient way to do so.

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    – Willeke
    Sep 10 at 13:11
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Google is indeed your friend, and the fact that you are from US, an English-speaking country, is a great plus.

Now let me say. When visiting other countries, you must check with your doctor and local regulations because not all drugs can be sold by a random stranger walking into pharmacy. You may need an internationalized prescription, which is handled by the pharmacist

The key is finding the generic name of the drug, which often matches the active ingredient(s)' name, with the help either of the package or online. Secondarily, you will have to deal with the dose.

Suppose you have a prescription for... random... Solurex.

1. Find the active ingredient, in English

A quick search for [pharmaceutical name] generic name reveals that Solurex is based on something called Dexamethasone.

Google result

You just achieved 98% of your job!!. Now you just have to pick the correct local drug.

2. Translate the name into any language

With the help of an online translator?

  • Spanish: Dexamethasona
  • Norwegian: Deskametason
  • Russian: Дексаметазон
  • Hebrew: דקסמתזון
  • Simplified Chinese: 地塞米松

Of course, if your pharmacist speaks English they can understand what medication to serve you. Remember that the pharmacist wants to know both the active ingredient(s) and its dose. I helped on finding the ingredient name.

Most if not all pharmaceutical products are equivalent to their generic drug despite a different commercial name. So you can buy just any Dexamethasone anywhere even if it's sold under different names, as soon as the dose matches your prescription.

Bottom line

Don't expect any drug to be available easily. Jurisdictions vary, certain drugs couldn't be authorized at all in the target market. Simple everyday products like Aspirin (which is the commercial name), paracethamol (which is the generic name that you can find e.g. as Beechams Flu Plus Hot Lemon) are of course widely available and mostly require no prescriptions. For more specific medications, e.g. anti-cancer, anti-diabetes, life-saver, you may have to buy home and carry with you. Indeed, this is the safest way.

As a last resort you could always try finding a local doctor to give you a prescription but that could prove difficult or expensive depending on your destination.

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    ...except, of course, that (obviously depending on where you go) Dexamethasone is rather unlikely to be available OTC... Sep 9 at 12:58
  • Aspirin is a too easy challenge. Sep 9 at 19:02
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    Also, some drugs common in one country may not even be licensed at all in another country. Good luck asking for acetylcysteine or Stoptussin in the UK.
    – Vladimir F
    Sep 9 at 21:52
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    @usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ Except of course that Aspirin isn't paracetamol. It's acetylsalicylic acid. Paracetamol/acetaminophen is Tylenol, and also comes with the additional wrinkle it has two different generic names whose uses vary by country (even where they speak the same language: US Acetaminophen vs UK Paracetamol, Colombia Acetaminofén vs Mexico Paracetamol.
    – Andrew Ray
    Sep 10 at 14:33
  • Ouch. I knew from the beginning they were two different products but by re-reading the answer it looks like I made confusion. Will change the aspirin Sep 10 at 16:02
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I found the following resource to find the name of the equivalents of a US drug in other countries: https://www.drugs.com/international/

The Drugs.com International Drug Name Database contains information about medications found in 185 countries around the world. The database contains more than 40,000 medication names marketed outside the USA and is presented in multiple languages.

Example: https://www.drugs.com/international/acemetacin.html


Another useful resource: https://pillintrip.com/ (not restricted to pills despite its name, e.g. it also contains creams)

enter image description here

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    These services are useful because they also list common brand names. You'd think that pharmacy workers around the world would recognize common drugs by their generic names, but in my experience that's not always the case. Add in a language barrier to complicate things, and it can be very helpful to know the most common brand name of the drug you need in the country you're traveling to. Sep 9 at 15:49
  • @IlmariKaronen thanks, of course, some other commenters have little experience traveling. Sep 9 at 15:52
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    @IlmariKaronen problem happen when one country uses a completely different generic name than the others (see the paracetamol x acetaminophen debacle in comments), or when one drug that's pretty common in one country has been banned in another for almost 60 years in other that it won't show up in any database and very few MDs or pharmacist ever heard of it (e.g. sodium metamizole) Sep 10 at 6:53
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The existing answer is good, but I'd like to clarify the different types of drug name.

Each drug has a generic name, and often one or more brand names under which it's sold.  Sometimes it's sold under the generic name directly (e.g. by smaller pharmacies, supermarket own brands, online, etc.).

Commonly-known and -available brands vary across the world.  Generic names, though, are much more consistent; they even look and/or sound similar across different languages, specifically to help in cases like this.  (They also uniquely identify a drug, unlike brands which can contain multiple active ingredients.)

So the important thing is to find the generic name.  (If you have a product, it'll be in the list of active ingredients.)  Pharmacists and other medical professionals know generic names, so you can ask for it directly.  And you can look for it on other products.

The painkiller under discussion is a very unusual case, as it has two different generic names in English, as well as many different brand names.  Its International Non-proprietary Name (INN) is ‘paracetamol’, but in the USA and a few other countries it's known as ‘acetaminophen’.  Some examples:

Generic name Brand names
US acetaminophen Tylenol, Excedrin, Panadol…
Japan acetaminophen Tylenol, Excedrin, Calonal…
UK paracetamol Panadol, Calpol, Anadin paracetamol…
Australia paracetamol Panadol, Febridol, Hedanol…

I don't know about other countries, but in the UK the generic name ‘paracetamol’ is the one it's most commonly known by, so that's all you'd need to know.

(In general, I get the strong impression that people in the USA prefer using brand names, even when not referring specifically to products bearing that brand; while in the UK we tend to avoid them in those cases, so as not to be overspecific — and not give free advertising!  But of course that's a discussion for another site.)

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    IUPAC name is supposed to be even less ambiguous.
    – Trang Oul
    Sep 10 at 7:23
  • Thanks for providing reference to the generic drugs. I thought that concept was available only in mine and certain other jurisdictions in Europe Sep 10 at 9:04
  • Yeah. At one point I recall being surprised that in the US a standard painkiller was advertised as Bayer rather than Aspirin. Sep 10 at 12:01
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    Aspirin is an interesting case because Bayer lost the Aspirin trademark in the US so I suppose they want to emphasize the company name over the now generic term. I don't know anyone who refers to Aspirin as Bayer though.
    – thesun
    Sep 10 at 12:42
  • The strange divergence of names is still a phenomenon for current drugs. In a recent conversation: "Here in Germany, the most preferred vaccine is BioNTech" - "That's one we do not even have here in Spain; most people get Pfizer" Sep 11 at 16:17
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A search on Wikipedia will often yield exactly the information you seek.

You can search for the chemical name or trade name. Wikipedia is smart enough to figure out what you mean, and will typically take you to the correct page.

On the page it presents, trade names will often be presented for multiple geographic regions.

Here is a good example: A search on Wikipedia for acetaminophen or paracetamol will both lead you to this Wikipedia page:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paracetamol

On that page, you can see that Tylenol and Panadol are both common trade names. That page even links you to another page with more details:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paracetamol_brand_names

On that page you will learn about over 50 different trade names for that chemical, as well as different formulations, delivery mechanisms, and packaging. It also lists medications that contain the primary chemical combined with other chemicals.

One advantage of Wikipedia is that it is often more up-to-date than other sites (but not always.. finding multiple sources of data is always essential) and another is that it contains content from around our planet.

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Others have commented on how to find equivalent drug names, I have another very important tidbit to add that is related to the problem.

THE LEGALITY OF YOUR DRUGS IN YOUR DESTINATION

Many countries have comprehensive lists of drugs (subject to immediate change without notice,) that are illegal to possess or bring into the country!

For example Japan (from: https://jp.usembassy.gov/services/importing-medication/)

Many common medications and over-the-counter drugs in the United States are illegal in Japan. It does not matter if you have a valid U.S. prescription for a medicine/drug which is illegal in Japan: if you bring it with you, you risk arrest and detention by the Japanese authorities. The U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Japan do not maintain a comprehensive list of prohibited medications or ingredients.

Comprehensive information is available only from the Japanese government and is subject to change without notice. All travellers are encouraged to check before travelling to Japan at Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (MHLW) website, including reviewing FAQ, or to email yakkan@mhlw.go.jp.

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  • Is that an individual's work email address, or the email address for a department? Sep 12 at 4:22
  • @RockPaperLz-MaskitorCasket Don't know. It is a quote straight from the page listed as a source. I only knew about the regulation because I heard about some horror stories about a guy waiting for a heart transplant being arrested because of his heart medication and undergoing some borderline torture (but allegedly legal under the Japanese system) before he got out. I'd have to find a source for those, it might be an interesting addition to this answer as an apocrypha
    – mishan
    Sep 13 at 5:16
  • Wow. That sounds horrible. When you are waiting for a heart transplant, literally every second matters. And stress is the last thing anyone needs, especially if they need a new heart. Sep 13 at 6:17

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