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Senior Care Pharmacist Consulting in St. Louis

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Be Aware of Brand Name Extensions:  All Zantac is Not the Same 

The other night I saw a television advertisement that caught my eye. It was for a heartburn product, “Zantac 3600.” It drew my attention because Zantac is the brand name for the generic drug ranitidine, which was withdrawn from the market in April 2020 because of contamination concerns. The easy work-around when ranitidine was withdrawn was to switch to famotidine (brand name Pepcid). Ranitidine and famotidine are in the same drug class of “H2-receptor antagonists.” They are comparable agents and both are available as over-the-counter (OTC) products for treating heartburn. It was an easy substitution. 

In late April 2021, however, the manufacturer of Zantac introduced a new product, Zantac 3600, to the market The catch is that this new Zantac product contains famotidine, not ranitidine. Adjusting the name from Zantac to Zantac 3600 is an example of what is called “brand name extension.” It is a marketing tool commonly used by manufacturers of OTC products to capitalize on consumer familiarity with brand names. Unfortunately, brand name extensions can be misleading to the unassuming consumer.

The OTC market is a big business, with estimated revenue of roughly $24 billion per year. Consumers need to beware of marketing strategies that can be misleading. In the case of Zantac 3600 containing famotidine, I am not concerned with safety issues for the consumer. As I mentioned, ranitidine and famotidine were always very interchangeable and without concerns for a negative affect for the patient. However, other brand-name extensions involve ingredients that are not interchangeable and thus can lead to adverse drug outcomes. Here are some examples I found on the shelves at my local community pharmacy:

Brand name (generic drug)

Brand name extension (ingredients)

Dulcolax Laxative (bisacodyl)

Dulcolax Stool Softener (docusate)

Dulcolax Liquid (magnesium hydroxide)

Senokot (sennosides)

Senokot-S (sennosides and docusate)

Senokot Dietary Supplement (senna leaf powder extract)

Phillips’ (magnesium hydroxide)

Phillips’ stool softener (docusate)


Thus, this is a good reminder of yet another reason why it is important for consumers to beware when purchasing OTC products. OTC marketing can be deceptive to consumers who are not carefully looking at the actual ingredients of what they buy. The brand name you see on the shelf might be a marketing ploy. It is important to read the OTC product label to verify ingredients before making a purchase.

My advice is to always talk to your pharmacist when purchasing an OTC product to make sure you get exactly what you need and not something with different or unnecessary ingredients. Remember that OTC products have side effects and interactions, as do prescription medications. Be careful about adding an OTC product to your medication list to avoid adverse outcomes and be safe about your medication use.

Written by Hedva Barenholtz Levy, PharmD, BCPS, BCGP


This material is intended to encourage discussion with your health care provider.  It is informational only and does not replace the guidance of your health care team.