The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday it is requesting manufacturers remove all prescription and over-the-counter ranitidine drugs from the market immediately.
This is the latest step in an ongoing investigation of a contaminant known as N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) in ranitidine medications, commonly known by the brand name Zantac, the FDA said. The agency has determined that the impurity in some ranitidine products increases over time. As a result of this immediate market withdrawal request, ranitidine products will not be available for new or existing prescriptions or OTC use in the U.S.
Zantac is commonly used to treat and prevent heartburn.
"The FDA is committed to ensuring that the medicines Americans take are safe and effective. We make every effort to investigate potential health risks and provide our recommendations to the public based on the best available science. We didn't observe unacceptable levels of NDMA in many of the samples that we tested. However, since we don't know how or for how long the product might have been stored, we decided that it should not be available to consumers and patients unless its quality can be assured," said Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "The FDA will continue our efforts to ensure impurities in other drugs do not exceed acceptable limits so that patients can continue taking medicines without concern."
NDMA is likely a human carcinogen, a substance that could cause cancer. In the summer of 2019, the FDA became aware of independent laboratory testing that found NDMA in ranitidine.
Low levels of NDMA are commonly ingested in the diet, for example NDMA is present in foods and in water. These low levels would not be expected to lead to an increase in the risk of cancer. However, sustained higher levels of exposure may increase the risk of cancer in humans.
The FDA conducted thorough laboratory tests and found NDMA in ranitidine at low levels. At the time, the agency did not have enough scientific evidence to recommend whether individuals should continue or stop taking ranitidine medicines, and continued its investigation, warning the public in September 2019 of the potential risks and to consider alternative OTC and prescription treatments.
New FDA testing and evaluation prompted by information from third-party laboratories confirmed that NDMA levels increase in ranitidine even under normal storage conditions, and NDMA has been found to increase significantly in samples stored at higher temperatures, including temperatures the product may be exposed to during distribution and handling by consumers. The testing also showed that the older a ranitidine product is, or the longer the length of time since it was manufactured, the greater the level of NDMA. These conditions may raise the level of NDMA in the ranitidine product above the acceptable daily intake limit.
The FDA is also advising consumers taking OTC ranitidine to stop taking any tablets or liquid they currently have, dispose of them properly and not buy more; for those who wish to continue treating their condition, they should consider using other approved OTC products. Patients taking prescription ranitidine should speak with their health care professional about other treatment options before stopping the medicine, as there are multiple drugs approved for the same or similar uses as ranitidine that do not carry the same risks from NDMA. To date, the FDA's testing has not found NDMA in famotidine (Pepcid), cimetidine (Tagamet), esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid) or omeprazole (Prilosec).
Connecticut pharmaceutical company Valisure discovered the contamination.
"Very glad that Valisure's laboratory testing has had such an impact and we strongly support and applaud FDA's decision to remove all ranitidine products from the market; a move that has already been done in dozens of countries around the world," the company said.
In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA recommends patients and consumers not take their medicines to a drug take-back location but follow the specific disposal instructions in the medication guide or package insert or follow the agency's recommended steps, which include ways to safely dispose of these medications at home.