Bar codes coming for prescription drugs

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists in Bethesda, MD, has long been advocating a federal mandate requiring scannable bar codes on prescription drug labels to provide information about the drug. Now the society has gotten its wish.

In an effort to reduce medication errors, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has pledged the support of the Food and Drug Administration to require bar coding on all prescription drug labels. Proponents of the move have cited three primary goals of using bar-coding systems in the inpatient setting:

  • Use of such bar coding would help eliminate medication errors and other preventable adverse drug events by ensuring accurate drug product and patient identification at the point of administration.
  • Coding would improve monitoring of drug-use trends within a population of patients so staff resources can be allocated for optimal patient care.
  • Coding would improve overall efficiencies in the medication use process, including the purchasing, storage, and distribution of drug products.

Publication of rules covering the regulation are expected this spring. Federal officials say the codes would contain information such as the National Drug Code number, and might contain other data, such as the drug’s expiration date and lot number, which would help identify expired and recalled drugs.