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MEDICATION MAY CARRY SIMPLER LABELS

The Food and Drug Administration wants to require simpler, more easily understood labels for nonprescription drugs including more pictures, diagrams and bolder print - and less reliance on technical words.

Just as easy-to-read nutrition labels are helping people choose packaged foods, the simpler labels for over-the-counter drugs may help reduce some of the confusion in choosing medication, the agency said.The introduction of new labeling requirements is likely to be a drawn-out process, and it is expected to be years before consumers will notice the difference. Over the next several years, the FDA plans to explore various ways to introduce the simpler labels.

"People have changed. People are more interested in their health," Michael Weintraub, director of the Office of OTC Drug Evaluation, explained after an advisory committee hearing on the plan.

"If the consumer is ready to take more control of their health, to learn more about their ailments and how they can treat them . . . it's really going to be helpful," he said. "By improving the print size and improving the content, we will make (the label) more approachable."

The announcement met little resistance from industry.

"We are committed to good label readability," said William Soller, senior vice president of the Nonprescription Drug Manufacturers Association. "The plea here is to focus on what's important."

Soller said he was concerned about using pictures because people can misinterpret them. He also worried about over-the-counter drug makers facing product liability claims as a result of the FDA's plan for simpler labels.

He also said many drugmakers are moving toward "boxless" packages because of ecological concerns, and they wondered where they would put dosage, warnings and other information on such packaging. But Soller stressed the $11 billion industry was willing to work with the FDA and other involved groups.

Marking the first major change in food labeling since 1973, the FDA last May required foodmakers to begin using a standardized label called "Nutrition Facts." The bold, easy-to-read label was designed to be more user-friendly so consumers could quickly see what was in their food and determine calorie and fat content.