Pharmacy pearls…blog#2

The National Drug Code (NDC) of a product is an essential piece in helping you verify prescription orders. Understanding each piece of the NDC is essential in your everyday pharmacy practice. The NDC is 11 numbers, fitting in the following example pattern: 54321-4321-21. The first five digits represent the manufacturer, the middle four numbers represent the drug and strength, and the last two numbers represent the package size of the drug and/or product.

Let’s use Prednisone 10mg as our example. A link to the drug with picture can be found CLICK HERE. The NDC for this product is 59746-0173-06. Barcode technology is essential piece of most pharmacies. With a typical workflow in the pharmacy following this pattern: Prescription Drop Off –> Order entry –> Fill prescription –> Verification of prescription –> Pickup –> Consultation of drug/device product. The part of the workflow that we will focus in on with this blog post is the verification component, but the barcode technology is also often employed with the “Fill” process in many chain pharmacies as well.

So, many folks don’t realize that the barcode of most drug products uses the NDC as it’s  code. To view a comparison of the NDC in relationship to the UPC barcode CLICK HERE and look at the last two columns on the chart. You will notice that the only difference between the NDC and the UPC barcode number is typically the first and last digits. With the first digit in the UPC code being the number “3”.

  • To recap, the NDC and UPC barcodes are essentially the same, and this technology is often deployed to match drug and device products at the fill and verification process. The pharmacist must know how to express this knowledge to pharmacy technicians and staff pharmacists to ensure patient safety. 

Secondly, understanding the NDC can then be used for the drug identification process. Remember the middle four digits represent the drug and strength. So lets compare Prednisone 10mg (NDC:59746-0173-06) tablets produced by Cadista to Prednisone 20mg (59746-0175-06) tablets produced by Cadista. Please click on the links embedded into the names for both Prednisone 10mg and Prednisone 20mg. Look closely at both tablets, and ask yourself whats the same and whats different?

So, both tablets are round. Both tablets have the markings TL embedded into the tablet. The tablets differ by color. The 10mg tablet is white while the 20mg tablet is more off a light orange. Lastly, take a look at your middle four digits of the NDC. For Prednisone 10mg the middle four digits are 0173. For Prednisone 20mg the middle four digits are 0175. The numbers on the tablet for the 10mg tablet is 173 and for the 20mg tablet is 175. Note: this does not apply to all pills that you will identify during the verification step. However, it is very useful to realize that very often the markings that are used on pills oftentimes correlate with the name of the manufacturer and the NDC. Remember though, this does not apply to all all pills, that you will identify during the verification step. 

  • To recap, the middle four digits on an NDC are sometimes used as the numerical markings on the pill. Thus, along with UPC barcode technology, the pharmacist having this knowledge can help he/she better identify and correctly verify pills during the workflow step known as the “verification process”. Thus, ensuring patient safety. 

If you have a question, please do not hesitate to leave a comment.

***Note: Please refer to the FDA package inserts, your pharmacy’s drug information resources, your state board of pharmacy policies, and your clinical judgement prior to dispensing. And if you still have further questions please never hesitate to contact the drug manufacturer. Information in this blog post does not substitute for your own clinical judgement. ***

***Patients, please discuss all medical and pharmacy options with your physician. This blog post does not substitute for an individual one on one consultation with your physician. In all cases of emergency please always call 911***

Sam Blakemore is the Pharmacy Manager of Peds Rx Pharmacy Solutions. Connect with him via: LinkedIn