Health & Fitness

More Idahoans may have taken this blood pressure medication that could cause cancer

The blood pressure medication Valsartan has been recalled, and local health care providers are switching patients to new drugs.
The blood pressure medication Valsartan has been recalled, and local health care providers are switching patients to new drugs. tdrake@macon.com

Update, Aug. 7, 2018: The list of valsartan drugs that are being recalled has been expanded to include more manufacturers. Check this list (PDF) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for your medication.

Original story:

Hundreds of Idaho residents have taken valsartan, a medication that is being recalled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because of an impurity in the drug that could cause cancer.

The FDA issued a voluntary recall earlier this month of several drugs that contain valsartan, which is used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure.

The recall was due to an impurity called N-nitrosodimethylamine, a “probable human carcinogen,” found in some types of valsartan drugs, the FDA said. The FDA said the presence of a cancer-causing substance is “thought to be related to changes in the way the active substance was manufactured.”

The recalled medications go by the names Valsartan or Valsartan-Hydrochlorothiazide. Not all brands are being recalled — only those manufactured by Major Pharmaceuticals, Solco Healthcare and Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd. Several other companies make drugs containing valsartan as their active ingredient but don’t have the impurity.

It’s unclear how much of the drug has been prescribed by local health care providers, but about 200 people on Medicaid filled about 1,700 prescriptions for the recalled drugs in the past five years, according to state records. Almost five times as many Medicaid patients took valsartan drugs that aren’t on the recall list.

Saint Alphonsus Health System says it doesn’t stock drugs containing valsartan at its Boise hospital. It did occasionally dispense the drugs to patients who came in already taking it in an effort to keep from interrupting their medication during a hospital stay. The Boise hospital distributed 55 doses of medications containing valsartan to about 15 to 20 patients in the past year, said spokesman Mark Snider.

“But I can’t tell you whether those medicines contained any of the recalled ingredients,” Snider noted. “To compare, our physicians prescribed more than 1,000 doses of medications containing an alternative to valsartan over that same time.”

St. Luke’s Health System has been “closely watching valsartan since early June, when some versions were recalled by the European Medicines Agency,” said Nathan Green, a cardiologist and medical director of St. Luke’s heart and vascular services. When the FDA issued its recall, St. Luke’s cardiology clinics switched patients to losartan or a non-recalled valsartan alternative.

Green said the system’s preferred drug is losartan, so he believes “relatively few” St. Luke’s patients were prescribed the recalled valsartan drugs.

St. Luke’s pharmacies were told to check their valsartan inventory and “immediately quarantine all suspected medication,” according to Scott Milner, St. Luke’s pharmacy and drug purchasing director. “Our prescription drug buyers are working to find alternatives from manufacturers who are not affected by the recall,” he said.

Not sure if your medication is on the recall list? You can check the drug name and company name on the label of your prescription bottle. Otherwise, officials recommend contacting your health care provider or pharmacist.

There are many numbers and dates on the foods, drugs, cosmetics, and other products we use every day. Some help manufacturers track inventory, while others help retailers ensure quality. But when unsafe products must be removed from the market, th

Audrey Dutton is an investigative reporter for the Statesman. Contact her at 208-377-6448, adutton@idahostatesman.com or on Twitter at @audreydutton.

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