Cough Syrup NAFDAC Issues Notice pediatrician pediatricians
Cough syrup

BEWARE: The Hidden Dangers of Contaminated Cough Syrup By Aishat M. Abisola

When it comes to our health and that of our loved ones, ensuring the safety of the medication we take is paramount. Despite this, recent events have underscored the frightening reality that even seemingly harmless medications such as cough syrup can harbor deadly toxins. From contaminated batches of well-known brands to devastating outbreaks of poisoning in vulnerable members of the population, the dangers of tainted medicines cannot be overstated.

This year, it was discovered that Benylin Pediatric Cough Syrup, a Johnson & Johnson product, was found to be contaminated with diethylene glycol. The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) detected high levels of this chemical, a highly toxic compound used in industrial products like antifreeze, in a batch of Benylin Paediatric Syrup. Promptly, NAFDAC notified the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), which led to an immediate recall of the contaminated cough syrup. Kenya swiftly followed suit, issuing recalls to protect consumers from potential harm.

The gravity of this contamination cannot be overstated. Diethylene glycol is a known poison, and its ingestion can have severe consequences, especially for children.

The presence of diethylene glycol in cough syrup is particularly concerning as this compound, commonly used in industrial products such as antifreeze, is highly toxic when ingested. Its ingestion can lead to severe health complications, including acute kidney injury (kidney failure). Tragically, high levels of diethylene glycol in cough syrup have been linked to numerous deaths worldwide.

In 2023, it was responsible for the deaths of 70 infants in Gambia when an Indian-made cough syrup was found to be tainted. Similarly, in Indonesia, 195 infants lost their lives due to syrups containing excessive amounts of ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol. These compounds, meant for industrial use, have no place in medications intended for human consumption.

The impact of contaminated cough syrup extends far beyond these isolated incidents. Since 2022, dozens of children have succumbed to poisoning in countries like Gambia, Uzbekistan, and Cameroon due to high levels of diethylene glycol. This wave of poisoning represents one of the deadliest episodes of medication contamination in recent history.

The consequences of ingesting tainted cough syrup can be devastating. Acute kidney injury, often resulting in kidney failure, is a common outcome. Children who survive such poisoning may face lifelong health complications, including impaired kidney function, neurological damage, and developmental delays. The toll on families and communities affected by these tragedies is immeasurable.

Acute kidney injury is particularly concerning because of its potential long-term effects. In children, whose organs are still developing, the damage can be even more severe. Chronic kidney disease, hypertension, and cardiovascular issues may manifest later in life as a result of acute kidney injury caused by toxin exposure.

Furthermore, the insidious nature of contaminated medication makes it challenging to detect until symptoms become severe. Initial signs of poisoning may be nonspecific, such as nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, leading to delays in diagnosis and treatment. By the time the contamination is identified, irreversible harm may have already occurred.

The responsibility for preventing such tragedies falls on multiple fronts. Regulatory agencies need to implement stringent quality control measures to ensure the safety and purity of medications. Manufacturers must also adhere to these standards and conduct rigorous testing of raw materials and finished products. Healthcare providers play a crucial role in educating patients about the risks of tainted medication and advocating for their safety.

Consumers also play a vital role in safeguarding their health and that of their families. It’s essential to be vigilant and informed about the medications we use, including cough syrups. Checking for proper labeling, expiration dates, and consulting healthcare professionals if there are any doubts or concerns can help mitigate risks.

The past and recent incidents of contaminated cough syrup serve as a stark reminder of the potential dangers that lurk in seemingly innocuous medications. The health and safety of consumers, especially vulnerable populations such as children, must always be a top priority. Needless suffering and death can only be prevented when proactive measures are taken to ensure the quality and integrity of pharmaceutical products.