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Jeff Rasansky
Jeff Rasansky
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Over-the-Counter Drug Truths & Myths

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Don’t get me wrong, I love email forwards as much as the next person. It really means someone cares enough about us to make us laugh, cry, think, or be warned.

Unfortunately, the information in these emails is not always true. Even more unfortunately, while the information may be true, it’s so far out of date to no longer be relevant.

This morning I received a forwarded email (thanks Aunt Sally!) describing the inherent dangers in cold medicines. Maybe you’ve seen it too: it warns us that a cold medicine ingredient by the name of phenylpropanolamine (PPA) significantly increases the risk of stroke in women. And this information is true. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) formally requested for cold medicines to be reformulated WITHOUT this ingredient back in 2000. Nearly nine years ago.

The FDA explicitly states that it is "…aware of emails circulating widely that list many products allegdly containing PPA. These emails, however, generally contain dated and inaccurate information and should be ignored."

What you should do: check the dates on your cold medicines and ensure PPA isn’t an ingredient. More than likely, you’re in the clear.

Other truths and rumors I’ve heard recently:

Recall of Tylenol

This one is mostly false. Tylenol, as a brand-name, has not been recalled in recent years. What has been recalled is a generic form of acetaminophen manufactured by Perrigo. This company provides generic store-brand acetaminophen – but the recall was back in 2006, nearly three years ago.

What you should do: again, check the dates on your mega bottles of acetaminophen as well as the manufacturer name against the FDA database of those batches involved in the recall.

Safety Concerns with Bowel Cleansing Products

This is true. Several prescription and over-the-counter products – such as Visicol, OsmoPrep, and other oral sodium phosphate solutions – used as laxatives and for bowel cleansing before colonoscopies have been subject to several FDA alerts in the past few months. Though the products will remain over-the-counter, the FDA is working with manufacturers to change the labelings and warnings on the packaging.

What you should do: if by prescription, talk to your doctor to ensure these products are right for you and your medical conditions; if over-the-counter, follow the directions and use ONLY as a laxative – not as a bowel cleanser.

But How Do I Keep Up?

The best way to keep up with over-the-counter drug information is to simply go to the source. The FDA maintains a database of health alerts, recalls, research, and other safety information. Check it out at http://www.fda.gov/medwatch/safety/2009/safety09.htm#drugs.