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Matt: I always wonder when I see bulletproof glass if that stuff actually works. I don’t think I’d feel safe with just a piece of glass between me and a guy with a gun. — Ms. Skeptic, via email

“Bulletproof” glass is actually a bulletproof sandwich. (And the industry generally hedges their bets and calls it “bullet resistant.”) And we’re not so much worried about the bullet. That’s just a lump of metal. What we need to calculate is the energy contained in the bullet once it’s fired. Anyway, between two slabs of glass lies a layer of transparent and flexible polycarbonate film that’s been tempered to make it tough. Perp shoots, bullet cracks glass on his side of the window, bleeding off a considerable amount of energy. It hits the flexible layer, which absorbs the remaining energy. Perp sulks out empty-handed.

But wait, there’s more. There also exists one-way bullet-resistant glass. Think about that one for a minute. We get that by sandwiching two film layers between glass, a brittle layer and a flexible layer. The window’s installed with the brittle layer perp-side. He shoots, bullet hits glass and shatters brittle layer, energy’s released, bullet rebounds from flexible layer. But, say you decide to shoot back at perp. Bullet hits flexible layer which flexes and easily shatters brittle layer and glass, and your bullet still has enough energy to escape the window and probably hit a potted plant, given the high anxiety of the situation.

Obviously, different firearms expel bullets with different amounts of energy. You describe your particular situation (do you often entertain disgruntled clients packing AKs? Little old ladies with pink derringers?) This will determine the thickness of the glass and the film layers for your particular marauders.

Hey Matt: Okay, somebody has to ask it, so I guess it will be me. How the hell do medications get all those crazy names? Unfortunately, I have to take several prescription meds regularly. There have been times when I’ve been asked what I’m taking and I have to describe what they do because the names are just impossible to remember. Over-the-counter meds aren’t as bad, and sometimes you can even guess why it was named that given what it’s used for. But please explain who names prescription medications. — Scott, in line at the pharmacy

Generic drugs actually have two names; copyrighted meds have three. Seat belt on? We’ll try to clarify. Every drug’s original name is actually its chemical symbol, like, with all the polygons and connectors and letters with subscripts that, if you didn’t take chemistry, look more like Chinese, maybe. Luckily, only the lab wonks need to worry about that. On to a med’s generic name.

Once a pharma has FDA approval for a medication, it submits all the paperwork to the United States Adopted Names Council, a group of AMA reps, pharmacists, and a few hangers-on from the FDA. This group, in conjunction with the World Health Organization, assigns a generic (non-trademarked) name to the new med. They’re tasked with making sure the name is (generally) one word, fewer than four syllables, distinct from other names, generally descriptive of the med’s action or principal ingredient, containing no hype (metaworksgreatacillin or Sandozazepam); no associated body parts; no ph’s, th’s, ae’s or oe’s, y’s, h’s, k’s, j’s, w’s, or names beginning with me, str, z, or x. There’s a slew of way more complicated stuff, but that’s the gist. Clarity and communication to physicians, pharmacists, and nurses is the goal.

To speed things along, the council has a list of standard generic-name “stems” that will form the heart of the med’s generic name. E.g., -profen for pain killers (ibuprofen), -azepam for anti-anxiety agents (diazepam), -fentanil for narcotic pain killers (brifentanil). Notice that the patient is not the primary person communicated with. Just the experts.

But these days, heaven knows, patented drugs chew up almost as much TV ad space as car makers do. So, a drug’s third name is its trade name, a copyrightable moniker that generally is known/remembered by the patient because it at least approximates common English. And trade-naming a drug, these days, isn’t so different from naming a cereal or a movie. It usually involves several focus groups of unsuspecting consumers and might even involve a company whose sole purpose is to name things to make us want to buy them. (We’re such sheep!) A brief primer: To stand out, it should be snappy; preferably contain sharp consonants like X. Z. K, C, V, D; and it should suggest its great properties: Viagra (vigor!), Claritin (clear!), Lunesta (the moon, night, sleep!), Xanax (wow, it’s powerful!), Yaz (uh, well — cool? hip? a real perky contraceptive?). The naming council also has to okay pharma’s suggestion for a trade name. Once pharma’s 17-year patent on the medication runs out, anybody can make and sell it under its old generic name or a new trademarked name.

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