Medicine identification guide

Updated February 21, 2017

Sometimes, it can be difficult for you to identify prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines when they are not in their packaging or bottle. Being able to properly identify medication is important because not doing so can often lead to confusion and misuse of prescription drugs. It is, however, possible to properly identify medication if you know the markings, the colour and the shape of the pill.


If you look closely at a tablet, capsule or pill, you will notice that it has markings which are either embossed or printed on the pill. The marking is usually a symbol, text, numbers or a combination of these. This unique imprint is the most important identifier of medications. The drug Vicodin, for example, will have its name printed in capital letters on one side of the tablet. The drug OxyContin will have the letters "OC" printed on one side and the number 10 on the other side. The "10" means that it's a 10 milligram tablet.


Medicine comes in many different colours and this is another element that can help you identify a drug. Tablets, capsules and pills can be red, orange, blue or pink, for example, or a combination of two colours such as yellow and red or white and blue. Each drug is manufactured using the same colour at all times. For example, Advil tablets are always manufactures as light orange in colour while Advil Liqui-Gels are always manufactured as a bluish-green colour. Colour helps you to differentiate between non-prescription or prescription medications from other tablets or capsules and therefore helps you to reduce making mistakes when taking pills.


The shape of a pill is another way for you to identify medication. Aside from colours, pills come in many different shapes as well such as round, capsule, elliptical, egg, barrel or rectangle. They can also be 3 sided, 4 sided, 5 sided, 6 sided, 7 sided, 8 sided, shaped like a heart or shaped like a character such as a rabbit. The drug Cymbalata, for example, is an oblong capsule. Celexa is a drug that is oval in shape and Adderall is a round tablet. Many chewable tablets made for kids come in different character shapes.


Some examples of drugs that you can identify by the imprint, colour and shape include Morphine, Darvon, Xanax and Valium. Morphine tablets have the imprint 54 733 on one side of the tablet. The colour of the tablet is white and it is round. Darvon has "Darvon" printed on the capsule, which is pink in colour and oblong shaped. Xanax has "Xanax" and "0.25" printed on one side of the tablet which is white in colour and oval in shape. Valium is imprinted with "2 VALIUM" on one side and "ROCHE ROCHE" on the other side. The tablet is white and round with the letter V punched out in the middle.

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About the Author

Veronica Romualdez has over 10 years of writing experience, which includes thousands of articles that have been published online as well as marketing copy for online stores. She's written e-learning/training material and technical and instructional manuals. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication and completed a course in interior design.