Experts: Cough syrup warning unnecessary

Elizabeth Roberts

A forwarded e-mail circulating across the Internet listing products containing the drug phenylpropanolamine should be ignored, the Food and Drug Administration said.

The drug, which the FDA issued a public health advisory against on Nov. 6, 2000, was found in many nasal decongestants and over-the-counter diet pills.

The e-mail is still being forwarded, despite the drug being banned in 2000.

Consumers should not worry, however, because many drug manufacturers stopped making products with the drug after the advisory.

Some Ames-area pharmacies stopped selling products containing phenylpropanolamine since the voluntary recall in 2000.

The drug was recalled by the Food and Drug Administration because of the small but significant risk of hemorrhagic strokes, which can be extremely devastating, said Marc Shulman, staff physician at the Thielen Student Health Center.

He said hemorrhagic strokes are worse than other strokes and can cause permanent defects such as paralysis and loss of speech.

Shulman said the significant health risks occurred in young people.

“The primary problem was brain hemorrhages that occurred in a small percentage of people taking [the drug],” said Dave Stark, pharmacy manager at the West Ames Hy-Vee, 3800 W. Lincoln Way.

The e-mail contains a long list of common cold medications, from Triaminic to Alka-Seltzer. Most of these medications have changed their ingredients, but the FDA urges consumers to check before buying any products.

Shulman said the Student Health Center’s pharmacy has complied with the FDA’s voluntary ban of the drug.

“We haven’t sold anything [with the drug in it] since the voluntary recall here at the Student Health Center pharmacy,” Shulman said.

Stark said although there were great health risks associated with products containing the drug, the percentage of people suffering hemorrhagic strokes from ingesting it was very small.

“I don’t know if I agreed with it being taken off the market,” Stark said.

“[From] the numbers I saw, there are so many other drugs on the market that caused more problems.”

Shulman said he is not sure if there is a formal ban on the drug, but there are a lot of other alternatives to the drug.

Stark disagreed and said there are few alternatives left.

He said the only alternative to phenylpropanolamine for nasal decongestion is sudaphedrine, which causes side effects such as insomnia or excitability in some people who use the drug.

Stark said the voluntary ban on the drug has also had a negative effect on people who want to lose weight, since it is also an appetite suppressant and was widely used in dietary supplements.

He said the ban on the drug has forced people to use herbal products that are not as well tested or well-known.

Ephedra, another popular ingredient in dietary supplements, was banned Dec. 30.