Last updateWed, 20 Sep 2017 9am

Your Health

How to find drug information in print and on the Internet

Before taking any medicine, over-the-counter or prescription, you may have questions – about how it will help, how to take it, potential side effects and ways to avoid complications. Should you take it with meals or on an empty stomach? Will it make you sleepy or unable to sleep? Which side effects are serious and which will go away in time?

Sometimes that information will come from a physician or pharmacist, but sometimes not. And sometimes you just might want to know more.

Many people looking for answers about drugs automatically seek out the venerable “Physicians’ Desk Reference” (PDR Network, 2014), popularly known as the PDR. The PDR has long been considered a primary source for drug information. They may not realize that there are many more drug information resources that might provide a better and more easily understood answer to their questions. Today, many of these resources can be found on the Internet.

One of my go-to drug information sources is no longer printed – it is only available online. The US PDI (United States Pharmacopeia Drug Information) provides information in two levels, for consumers and clinicians. Updated annually, US PDI’s “Advice for the Patient” has long been a source of reliable information about both prescription and nonprescription medications. More than 9,000 entries, presented by generic or family name, include common brand names, a phonetic spelling of the generic name, a description of the drug, points to consider before using the drug, side effects and proper usage and precautions.

“Advice for the Patient” can be found online on a number of websites. Some require registration. Perhaps the easiest to find, with no registration required, is in the drug information section of MedlinePlus, the National Library of Medicine’s consumer health database (nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginformation.html).

The Food and Drug Administration also offers an informative, well-designed website that is easy to navigate (fda.gov). The site includes an index to drug-specific information found online at fda.gov/cder/drug/DrugSafety/DrugIndex.htm.

A book in print, “Complete Guide to Prescription & Nonprescription Drugs” (Perigree, 2014), is also written for the layperson and packed with easy-to-understand information. Drug information is presented in a readable chart format. Standardized categories include generic and brand names, dosage and usage, adverse reactions and side effects, warnings and precautions, and possible interactions. Published annually, the popular guide also includes valuable information on over-the-counter medication.

Of course, the good old PDR can be a useful resource, too, but readers should be aware that the content consists of manufacturer-provided and FDA-approved drug-package inserts. Package inserts, whether they come with the prescription itself or presented in the PDR, can be difficult for the average person to read. The type is small and the information complex, covering clinical pharmacology that most people do not want to know.

It is also often difficult to find a specific drug by name in the PDR. Drugs are listed by manufacturer. Because most of us do not know the name of a drug’s maker, indexes must be searched to find specific drugs. These include brand and generic name, along with product category indexes. There is also a “PDR for Nonprescription Drugs and Dietary Supplements” (PDR Network, 2014).

Another valuable drug information book is “Drug Facts and Comparisons” (Wolters Kluwer Health, 2014), a highly respected publication known primarily by pharmacists. The book presents drugs within a specific class, such as antidepressants, and compares their therapeutic action, dosage, precautions and interactions.

From the same publisher, “Drug Interaction Facts 2014” (2013) brings evidence-based information on drug-drug, drug-supplement and drug-food interactions to the forefront. It is important to be concerned with drug interactions, which can be difficult to uncover, especially if a prescribing physician or pharmacist is not aware of all of the medications or supplements a person takes. Drug interactions can cause potentially serious effects. “Drug Interaction Facts” offers a rating system to identify significant interactions quickly and profiles more than 20,000 brand-name and generic drugs.

To learn more, stop by, call or email Stanford Health Library. The library is free and open to the public. Librarians will conduct research, free of charge, to help answer specific questions. Links to evidence-based drug information can be found on the Health Library’s website at healthlibrary.stanford.edu/resources/treatment/treatment_drugs.html.

The main branch of Stanford Health Library is located in the Hoover Pavilion, 211 Quarry Road, Suite 201. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Other branches are located on the first floor of Stanford Hospital, on the main level of Stanford’s Cancer Center and at the Ravenswood Family Health Center.

Nancy Dickenson is head librarian at Stanford Health Library. For more information, call 725-8400, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit healthlibrary.stanford.edu.

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