What is the National Drug Code?

The National Drug Code (NDC) is a distinctive 10-digit identification code for medications in the United States. The origins of the National Drug Code lie with Medicare, where streamlined coding is necessary for tracking patients and generating bills. Over time, the use of such codes spread to other entities. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains a database of codes currently in use for the reference of physicians, medical billers, and others.
Each National Drug Code has three separate sections. The first identifies the “labeler,” the company manufacturing or distributing the drug. The second contains information about the formulation, strength, and dosage, and the third indicates the size of the package. Dashes run between the segments to make codes easier to read, and the number of digits in each segment can vary, depending on the drug and the manufacturer.
The FDA inspects and approves drugs sold for human and animal use in the United States. Under the Drug Listing Act of 1972, it maintains a database of information about all drugs currently in use, and this includes the National Drug Code of each medication. If a medication cannot be found in the drug code, it may not have FDA approval, or the manufacturer may have sent the FDA a notice indicating intent to withdraw the drug from the market. The FDA regularly updates the database to keep the information current, adding new medications and removing drugs no longer available for sale.
While people may be familiar with National Drug Codes for medications they prescribe and interact with frequently, it is usually necessary to look drugs up in the database to record the code correctly. Online database access is available, allowing people to look up drugs by traits like active ingredients and manufacturers. The FDA does not allow for reuse of drug codes to avoid confusion and situations where the medication under discussion might be unclear.
One advantage to recording information in the form of the National Drug Code is an elimination of confusion and ambiguity. As long as the numbers are correctly noted, the code will be readable by anyone reviewing a patient’s chart and billing records. In the case of things like single dose phials, a detachable label with the National Drug Code and batch information is often available. When the doctor gives the medication, the label can be stuck in the patient’s chart for future reference, and it often includes a machine-readable bar code for ease of data entry.

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