What you need to know: Drugs recalled because of possible carcinogen contamination

Drug recall
Recent recalls of drugs used to treat acid reflux and hypertension are raising concerns among millions of Americans. Dr. Anthony Perre at CTCA Philadelphia tells you what you need to know.

In the past several weeks, several drug manufacturers have recalled medications used to treat acid reflux, hypertension and kidney disease due to threat of contamination with potential carcinogens. With the recall raising concerns among millions of Americans who take these popular medications, Anthony Perre, M.D., Vice Chief of Staff at our hospital in Philadelphia, cautions people not to panic or stop taking their medication without first consulting their doctor. “You can be switched to a similar drug in the same class, or you may be amenable to drugs in a different class of medications,” Dr. Perre says.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Sept. 23 that Torrent Pharmaceuticals Limited had expanded its voluntary recall of losartan potassium and losartan potassium/hydrochlorothiazide tablets. The announcement came on the heels of several other recalls of certain generic brands of valsartan, losartan and irbesartan that belong to a class of drugs called angiotensin II receptor blockers, or ARBs. Days later, the FDA announced voluntary recalls of a popular heartburn drug and several generic varieties containing the substance ranitidine, which belongs to the class of drugs called H2 blockers.

The recalls were issued over concerns that the medications may be contaminated with the potential carcinogen N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) or similar substances known as nitrosamines. “NDMA is classified as a probable human carcinogen (a substance that could cause cancer) based on results from laboratory tests,” the FDA said in a statement. “NDMA is a known environmental contaminant and found in water and foods, including meats, dairy products and vegetables.”

The recalled drugs are used to treat two common conditions among Americans: hypertension and acid reflux. ARBs are typically used to treat hypertension and heart failure and to prevent the progression of kidney disease, often in people with diabetes, Dr. Perre says. High blood pressure is prevalent in the United States. An estimated 63 percent of Americans age 60 and older have hypertension, according to a survey published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. H2 blockers, which are similar to proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), work by shutting down receptors in stomach cells that produce gastric acids to help digest food. Millions of Americans take over-the-counter H2 blockers and PPIs to control acid reflux and heartburn.

While specific classes of drugs may be better options for patients with certain issues and/or of certain ethnic groups, Dr. Perre says, patients have alternatives they can use instead of the recalled medications. The takeaway, he says, is that people taking medication to control hypertension or acid reflux should heed the FDA’s warnings and do their due diligence to determine whether their particular drug is on the recall list. But don’t stop taking your medicine unless or until you are instructed to do so.

“The key message is to talk to your doctor,” Dr. Perre advises. “Even in the class of recalled drugs, there are other drugs that aren’t recalled. And there are alternatives as well. We want you to have good communication with your pharmacist and your doctor to treat the underlying medical condition.”

See a list of recalled generic blood pressure medications.

See a list of recalled generic acid reflux medications.

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