Heparin-Linked Deaths Spur Fears About Repeat of 2008 Contaminated Prescription Drug Recall

By May 13, 2009Dangerous Drugs

Federal regulators and pharmaceutical company Baxter International are investigating the cause of two deaths linked to blood-thinning drug heparin, the Wall Street Journal reported May 11. Two patients at a hospital in Lewes, Delaware died after using the heparin, and a third suffered unspecified medical problems; a spokeswoman for Baxter said their symptoms include intracranial bleeding. A hospital administrator told the newspaper that the problem had not yet been identified, but the use of heparin was the only thing they found tying the three cases together.
This is the second serious safety problem in two years for heparin and Baxter. Heparin is a blood thinner, used to treat dangerous blood clots, certain heart problems and people on life support. Contaminated heparin imported from China killed 81 people and sickened 785 more in 2008, sending them into shock and dangerously lowering blood pressure. The culprit was oversulfated chondroitin sulfate — a supplement that is cheaper than heparin but mimics its effects, suggesting that it was used intentionally to cut costs. In response, Baxter and other manufacturers were forced to recall their versions of the drug. However, the article noted, the drug in the current outbreak comes from a North American source and patients’ symptoms are different.
As a dangerous prescription drug attorney, I hope regulators can find the problem and recall any tainted medication before more patients fall ill. The symptom mentioned in the article, intracranial bleeding, is the medical term for a hemorrhage inside the skull, including in the brain. This is considered a medical emergency because it can create pressure inside the skull that leads to brain damage — and thanks to the heparin, the bleeding won’t be stopped by the body’s natural blood clotting ability. Patients with the serious medical problems treated with heparin are already weak, and they tend to be older — those who died in Delaware were 64 and 71. A drug that causes severe pressure on the brains of these patients could kill them or leave them with permanent brain damage.
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