What is the National Drug Code?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2019
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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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Discuss this Article

Post 5

@kentuckycat - If you check the NDC website that's been mentioned several times already, there is a helpful section at the bottom of the page that outlines a little bit about how the codes are formed.

I doubt that there are really tens of thousands of manufacturers. My guess is that having more numbers leads to more unique codes and less chance for a mix up to happen.

Post 4

I'm curious how many of these codes exist and how they are created. The codes on my products have 5 digits for the first number. Are there really tens of thousands of companies that are producing medications in the United States? I know about many of the major producers, and I also know that a lot of companies make generic products, but are there really that many?

Also, for the second number, how do the numbers translate into the formula and dosage. Finally, how can the last 2 digits signify the size?

Post 3

@Emilski - Hmm, after reading your article I decided to go searching around my bathroom, and I think I found the numbers you are talking about. Like you, I found the NDC Directory and searched, but didn't find anything, either.

I went to the section where you can search by product name and looked up my contact solution, and it came up with the product. It had an 8 digit number associated with it, but I couldn't find that number anywhere on the bottle. I had the same result with my mouthwash and toothpaste.

It is very interesting that these products would have product numbers, but they would not be printed anywhere on the product itself. Does anyone else here have any ideas why that would be? Maybe just the fact that it is not medication means it does not have to have the number on the packaging.

Post 2

@stl156 - I'm with you. I had never noticed the numbers, either. I am curious now, though, about other products regulated by the FDA like toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoo, and other hygiene products. They all have similar labels as the medicines, but don't have an NDC number. I take this to assume that the NDC number is only for products that are ingested.

What I did find interesting is that all of these products do have a 7 digit number on the product. I went to the NDC Directory site to search for the codes, but it didn't come up with anything. Is there some sort of other database that has product information for things that are not medications, but are still regulated by the FDA?

Post 1

Wow, this was extremely interesting. I just went and checked my medicine cabinet, and found the number on all of them. I can't believe I have never noticed the bottles having these numbers before.

If you do a quick search for the National Drug Code Directory, you can find the FDA website where you can type in the code and look up the product.

Unfortunately, I don't have any prescription medications in my house. When you get the bottles from the pharmacy, do they also have this number printed somewhere on them?

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