Thursday, March 06, 2008

Oink Oink

There is a line in the movie Snatch, which states that you should never trust a man who owns a pig farm. (See related youtube blog post), this is because a pig can easily devour anything thrown it's way (including human bodies).

As reported in the NY Times, an artificial ingredient in heparin which is designed to look like heparin on drug quality tests but is not heparin. Heparin is a blood thinning drug used when someone has a heart attack, when someone has a life threatening blood clot in the lungs (pulmonary embolism) or deep venous thrombosis (DVT), in dialysis, in heart bypass surgery, and is the only powerful blood thinner that you can use in pregnancy. The benefit of heparin is that it can be reversed quickly and acts rapidly whereas coumadin (an alternative) is not as easy to reverse and takes a little longer to be effective.

The scary thing which has been revealed by the recent product recall and ban on multi-use vials of heparin is that most of the world's supply of Heparin comes from one place: Baxter Pharma, and is made in China, from a plant that was inappropriately inspected by the FDA because the name of the plant was confused for another plant.

Heparin is extracted from PIG intestines. I wonder how this news is going to go down with my devout Jewish patients when I tell them they are getting heparin, they probably didn't know this before but with this recent news I wonder how many will know now.

I have noticed a trend with the inability to use heparin boluses after the multi-dose heparin recall to use lovenox more often... Lovenox, made by Sanofi-Aventis, is going generic late this year, and it is surprising that the stock value has been more affected by that than the probably increase in sales which will come from the scare about heparin. Will be interesting to watch what happens here. Ironically, Baxter stock is not down as much as Sanofi-Aventis, although both are down.

This adds to the list of other "unusual" chemical additives which are not what they seem coming from China. In the past year we have seen melamine which is designed to fake protein content in pet food, and DEG (like antifreeze) in OTC products such as tainted toothpaste from China, tainted cough syrup in Panama, which led to the execution of the leader of the Chinese Food Safety Bureau last year, as well as many deaths due to these harmful agents.

And the scary thing is even if you are an educated consumer who reads labels and consults your doctor, you would never know, since these events made it past doctors and veterinarians, which shows the (misplaced?) trust we place in drug manufacturers and the regulatory agencies which govern them.

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