By Jeffery Racheff

If there’s one place you don’t want to confuse names, it’s probably in the world of medicine and drugs.

Take Maalox Total Relief for instance. Folks looking for deliverance from diarrhea flocked to the over-the-counter medicine, assuming it would alleviate their belly pains. Instead they found themselves much worse off.

What they didn’t know is that MTR provides more than just total relief — it’s the nuclear-tipped warhead in the Maalox arsenal. The FDA has caught on. It has ordered the makers of the upset stomach medicine to change its name and packaging after discovering that consumers have been mistaking it for the original, more gentle Maalox, then overdosing on it. And if this somehow leads to stomach relief, it is only in the form of internal bleeding.

Now, I’m sure that’s not the kind of comfort Maalox wants to offer. But the problem here is all in the name. For one, Maalox has not taken into account the urgency of the purchase. An MTR purchase isn’t likely to occur in the middle of a planned shopping trip, when you have time to compare ingredients. You don’t often find yourself judging ripe cantaloupe, looking for deli meats, and then perusing which medication will best alleviate your crippling diarrhea. No, this is an emergency purchase. This is the kind of product you seek out when you’re on a mission, with no time or clean underwear to spare.

And that means the name has to say it all.

Yes, people should always read the dosage instructions and warning labels (like the fact that Total Relief contains aspirin-related ingredients that might punch holes in your intestines). But the biggest and most important label is the name itself. It’s probably the only thing legible to someone doubled over in the throes of intestinal World War III. So if it has different, possibly life-threatening, differences from the regular formula, then it’s common sense that the two should be clearly distinguishable.

Of course, Maalox can’t really say it’s surprised people automatically went for the Total Relief. The name itself seems to imply that original-style Maalox only offers partial relief. Which in turn implies there are people out there who would prefer to have their day only partially punctuated by violent intestinal gyrations.

Thankfully Maalox has agreed to change the MTR name and packaging. Let’s hope the new brand conveys how carefully it should be taken, without actually confusing people into chugging bottles of magma-strength stomach medicine. Now that would be a total relief.

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