Drugmakers have only two years instead of three to slap bar codes on drugs dispensed in hospitals under the Food and Drug Administration's final bar-coding regulation.
Each linear bar code -- similar to the codes on millions of consumer products -- must contain at least the drug's National Drug Code number and must be applied to most prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs used in hospitals, as well as to blood and blood products.
The FDA said it received about 190 comments on a proposed regulation published in March 2003, nearly all of them supporting at least part of the regulation. After reviewing the comments, the FDA made four significant changes, including shortening the compliance date by a year and excluding drug samples from the requirement.
The agency estimated that when fully implemented the bar-coding requirement would prevent nearly 500,000 medical errors over a 20-year period -- a $93 billion economic benefit. The final regulation will take effect 60 days after its publication in Thursday's Federal Register.