Find the active ingredient

Most medicines have two names: the active ingredient and the brand name. The active ingredient identifies the chemical in the medicine that makes it work. The brand name is the name given to the medicine by its manufacturer.

Being medicinewise means knowing where to find the active ingredient every time you get a medicine so that you can:

  • recognise when two different brands are the same medicine
  • identify when two medicines are not the same. Some brands of medicine sound very similar, but contain different active ingredients and are taken for different conditions
  • check that you’re not taking a medicine you’re allergic to, or shouldn’t be taking with your other medicines
  • identify suitable alternatives to your usual medicines when travelling overseas.

Avoid accidental double dosing

Check the active ingredient every time you get a medicine to avoid accidental double dosing. This can be a risk when you get a different brand of the same medicine from a doctor or pharmacist, or when you choose a medicine yourself that has the same active ingredient as your other medicines.

Checking the active ingredient is particularly important when you leave hospital. In this case, the pharmacy may stock only one brand of your medicine, which may not be the one you normally take. If you continue with your usual brand of medicine at home, not knowing that the one supplied by the hospital is the same, you risk having an accidental overdose or side effects.

Find the active ingredient on the packaging

The active ingredient name is shown on the medicine’s packaging. The packaging must also show the strength; that is, how much of the active ingredient is in that particular formulation.

Print this information as a fact sheet.

Example medicine packet

Click image for a 3D version of this packet (requires Flash).

Example pain reliever packet

An example pain reliever medicine packet.
Note: This is a fictitious product and all directions on the packaging are an example only. This product does not imply Therapeutic Goods Association approval and is purely for educational purposes regarding medicines use.

Dosing amounts vary between medicines and will not be the same in any pain relief medicines you have at home. Always read the label and follow the instructions to ensure that you are taking the correct dose for you.

If it’s a prescription medicine the active ingredient is also on the label applied by the pharmacist (known as the pharmacy dispensing label).

Example of a pharmacy dispensing label

Example of a medicine dispensing label

Example pharmacy dispensing label. Dosing amounts vary between medicines and may not be the same for any medicine you have at home.
Note: This is a fictitious product and all directions on the packaging are an example only. This product does not imply Therapeutic Goods Association approval and is purely for educational purposes regarding medicines use.

Occasionally, a medicine has more than one active ingredient. If so, the name of each active ingredient is shown on the medicine’s packaging and pharmacy dispensing label.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you are ever unsure about what the active ingredient is or where to find it.

You can also watch our video, Don’t gamble with your medicine’s most important ingredient, that shows where the active ingredient is printed on the pack of your medicine.

For more information