Health Canada introduced the regulatory amendments in July 2014 as part of its Regulatory Transparency and Openness Framework and its commitment to make information more readily available to Canadians. The Regulations Amending the Food and Drug Regulations (Labelling, Packaging and Brand Names of Drugs for Human Use) – more commonly known as the “Plain Language Labelling amendments” – came into force on June 13, 2015. The provisions now in force apply to prescription drug products and those that are obtained through a healthcare professional. The plain language requirements for non-prescription products will come into force in 2017.

The Plain Language Labelling amendments aim to improve the safe use of drugs and help reduce preventable harms from medication errors by making drug labels and safety information easier to read and understand.

5 Requirements for Plain Language Labelling

The Plain Language Labelling amendments include five core requirements that prescription drug manufacturers must comply with during the pre-market submission period. The five requirements are as follows:

  1. Compliance with plain language labelling provisions that explicitly link the readability of the product label to the factors such as clear writing, color contrast, font size and layout.1
  2. Submission of a full mock-up of the product label and packaging intended to be used for the sale of the product. The submission allows Health Canada to review an accurate representation of what the product will look like when it becomes available in the Canadian market in advance of approval.2
  3. The requirement to include the contact information of someone who is responsible for the product in Canada should a patient experience a problem, or have a question or concern about the drug product.3
  4. Submission of a Look-alike Sound-alike (also referred to as “LASA”) assessment of the proposed product name.4 Similarities between product names can cause health care professionals and patients to confuse one product for another, and can result in prescribing errors, transcription errors, dispensing errors and/or patient self-selection errors. The mandatory LASA assessment helps to ensure that the drug brand name will not be confused with another drug’s brand, common or proper name due to similar sounding or looking names.
  5. For non-prescription products, the inclusion of a standard drug information table which must contain information such as indications or uses, recommended doses, route of administration, storage conditions, a list of medicinal and non-medicinal ingredients, and contact information to allow patients to report problems.5

In order to provide support and direction to manufacturers on how to comply with the plain language labelling requirements, Health Canada has created various policies and guidance documents, including the “Guidance Document for Industry – Review of Drug Brand Names”, which came into effect the same day as the amendments, and the “Good Label and Package Practices Guide” which is currently in draft form. Health Canada will likely provide for further guidance to help manufacturers design safe and clear labels to establish consistent practices across the industry.