Taking Liquid Medicine? You Better Know Your Metric System

The US has been one of three nations on earth that still ignores the metric system. Itís not that we donít ‘officially’ recognize it; technically it’s been considered a standard form of measurement in the USA for 147 years. However, from a practical standpoint, what we still rely on, and defend to no end, is primarily dubbed the Standard American System, or Standard for short.

However, for scientists and pharmaceutical companies, which have international bases and use the metric system in all their weights and measures, this is turning into quite a problem.

In a recent study in Pediatrics, parents trying to measure the metric-to-standard equivalents for dosage geo it wrong 40 percent of the time. Overdosing and under-dosing were both significant factors with another 40 percent of parents reading the instructions wrong, supplementing tablespoons for teaspoons.

The conclusion of the study is that we should switch to a metric-only medication format to prevent future dosage mistakes, which would mean a complete overhaul of our entire system.

In most pharmacies, the computers use the standard set of measurements to give dosing instructions, which can be especially problematic now that pharmaceuticals have all switched to metrics. It sets up a margin of error, which especially in children, can result in medication poisoning, hospital visits and severe stomach issues.

But this is hardly the first time concerns have been raised. Both the CDC and the FDA have advocated we change our dosage and pharmacy measuring systems to the metric system for some time. While they set up an entire list of recommendations which include integrating a dosage delivery device, with clear measurement instructions, and defining abbreviations (i.e. tps = teaspoon), so far they have gone unheeded.

For American companies that function overseas, there is always a conversion procedure that must take place. This goes not only for the scientists we send over there, but any firms we might create, any housing we might build. It all has to go through a standard conversion process before it can even start.

Of course itís understandable that when youíve grown up with inches you cannot simply switch overnight. However, metric proponents have discussed slowly integrating metric education and signage around the US. After all, itís very hard to have a global market and participate in a global economy if it takes 3 extra conversions every time you want to send a package overseas.

However, when it comes to manufacturing processes, it can become far trickier. A study run by NASA showed that to convert every measurement used in the Space Shuttle would actually cost more than the actual space shuttle itself Ė around $370 million dollars.

Some US companies have simply given up on the Standard system, and went metric anyway. Bicycle, soda, tool and film industries often ascribe both units of measurement to their product, in order to mitigate any issues that might come from using the Standard system alone.

However, in cases when it comes to our safety, it might be time to bite the bullet. Itís not that we still canít measure our distances by miles, or our square footage by feet. However, because the rest of the world will not change their pharmaceutical markings based on stubborn adherence to standard systems alone, itís time to give in and finally learn our metrics.

Because in this day and age, refusing to acknowledge the international standard could mean the difference between an ER visit and a smooth recovery.



Christine Jones
Christine J1 years ago

I learned the imperial system and had to learn the new system as a young person. Yes it's difficult, and I still have to translate it in my head, a bit like a foreign language. But if the US bites the bullet now, for the next generation it will come naturally.

Leigh EVERETT3 years ago

The metric system is much easier to understand and far more logical as it is based on decimals (base 10). We have ten fingers, ten toes. 1000 grams in a KILOgram, easy.

oh, and a teaspoon is abbreviated to 'tsp' and not 'tps' as mentioned in the article.

Michael Glass
Michael Glass3 years ago

I agree with Julie W. that Australia did change to the metric system, but most of it happened in the 1970s. Fortunately, metrication was supported by all the political parties so it didn't become a political football, and most of the change happened very smoothly. Certainly, dispensing medicines by metric measures should be relatively easy to achieve. All it takes is the political will.

Maria Teresa Schollhorn

Thank you.

Carole R.
Carole R3 years ago

Guess it's time we joined the majority of the world.

Janis K.
Janis K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Tammy D.
Tammy D3 years ago

"close" is not good enough when it comes to drugs. How hard is it to just switch to mL and grams? Just write both measurements until it is slowly accepted.

If Australia and Canada switched basically over night, you would think the US could do it in a few decades.... Please, join me in switching to metric. Simply refuse to speak or write in 'imperial' measurements. I mean, they are so much harder. I remember having to memorize how many pounds were in a ton. Still, to this day, this bit of knowledge (which I never memorized successfully) has never come in handy... Quick! How many pints in a gallon??!! Tablespoons in a cup?!

Of course, there is still Fahrenheit to discuss....


Vasu M.
.3 years ago

I've debunked "so much..." in email and snail mail, on AlterNet and Salon.com, online and offline, repeatedly over the past several years. :-)

Jill Saunders
Jill Saunders3 years ago

If anyone else like me, a child of the 70's and cannot do either new or old math because this was so screwed up, I do have a cheat for metrics! Because I have to convert so much measurements for my job, here is a great conversion chart I have used for years, pre-app age! go to www.worldwidemetric.com and then click on "calculator". there are are whole bunch of things you can convert! No brain necessary! :)

Vasu M.
.3 years ago

When I was in junior high school, circa 1975, president Ford talked about America converting to the metric system by 1985.

Obviously, it hasn't happened yet.

We've transitioned from gas-guzzlers to compact cars and unleaded fuel, but not yet to electric cars, either.

Although I've heard Canada switched over to the metric system rather quickly, change happens slowly in the United States: a secular democracy dominated by a two-party political system.

And perhaps the political system isn't at fault. Like electric cars, switching to the metric system, etc., a vegan economy, transitioning to a plant-based diet, makes perfect sense, too... but hasn't happened yet, either.

As Peter Singer notes, *habit* (and not the Christian right!) is the biggest obstacle to animal liberation. I think that's true of going metric, too.