If you head to the medicine cabinet in your family home, there are probably quite a few pills and medicines inside. From over the counter drugs to prescription pills, we rely on professionally produced and tested medications to alleviate our symptoms when we’re feeling unwell, to soothe upset stomachs, ease headaches, and so on, and we trust that these products are safe to use.
However, even though medications have to undergo rigorous FDA testing before being approved for public use, every now and then, situations arise where commercially available medications end up being recalled, as new side effects or health risks are revealed later on. One of the biggest causes of this in recent times involved the drug Zantac, also known as Ranitidine.
This common heartburn drug has been used by millions of Americans, but in 2019, the FDA revealed that a dangerous carcinogenic contaminant had been found in Ranitidine and recommended that people cease taking it immediately. Zantac and associated products have since been recalled from store shelves, but many families are still unsure about what exactly happened and what the risks are.
What Exactly Is Zantac/Ranitidine?
Ranitidine is a type of H2 (histamine-2) blocker, commonly used to relieve the symptoms associated with heartburn and sold under the brand name Zantac. It has been available both as an over the counter drug and a prescription medication, and various companies operating around the US have sold their own generic versions of Ranitidine.
The prescription variants are typically stronger and could be prescribed to treat or prevent stomach and intestine ulcers, while the milder version was only suitable for treating heartburn. For years, Ranitidine was one of the most consumed medicines in the US, trusted by countless people.
The drug was first discovered in England in the 1970s, released commercially in 1981, and added to the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines. However, in 2019, everything changed when a carcinogen called NDMA was discovered in Ranitidine products and they began to be recalled.
In September of 2019, a dangerous probable carcinogen contaminant called N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) was found in Ranitidine products from a range of different brands, leading to product recalls. Leading drug companies like Novartis and Apotex quickly announced that all Ranitidine products would be recalled around the US, and leading drugstore chains like Walgreens made announcements that they were pulling Zantac and associated products from store shelves too.
Then, in April 2020, Ranitidine was fully withdrawn from the US marketed and suspended in the European Union, along with other parts of the world, in response to growing concerns about the health risks and dangers associated with NDMA.
What Does NDMA Do?
NDMA is a contaminant that can be found in a range of foods and water sources and is also classed as a probable carcinogen. Studies on animals have concluded that NDMA can contribute to the development of cancer, but there haven’t been many studies regarding its effects on humans, so the evidence is somewhat limited.
Should I Be Worried?
As stated, there haven’t been many studies looking into NDMA and humans, so there’s not necessarily a need to panic right away if you or a family member have been taking Zantac. NDMA doesn’t pose any immediate health risks and it has been suggested that high doses over an extended period of time would be necessary to cause any kind of cancer. However, the probable risks still exist, which is why it’s important to take action.
What Should I Do?
The FDA has ordered that all forms of Ranitidine be removed from the US market, but if you’ve been taking OTC or prescription Ranitidine in the past, you may still have some at home and maybe wondering what to do next. If you’re taking OTC Ranitidine, you should simply stop taking it completely and speak with your doctor for recommendations of alternatives.
Meanwhile, if you’re taking prescription Ranitidine for a more serious condition, you should also speak with your doctor about alternatives and they may recommend stopping immediately or gradually stopping the drug. Any unused Ranitidine should be disposed of according to FDA guidelines.
It’s always worrying to hear that a medication you may have trusted for years could turn out to be dangerous, and Zantac is one of the rare cases in which a previously approved and widely-used medicine has later been revealed to have health risks. If there are any Ranitidine products in your home, make sure to take action now to keep your family safe.