The Dangers of Using Contaminated Drugs

The Dangers of Using Contaminated DrugsAny drug or psychoactive substance has potential dangers. Side effects and overdose risks are always considerations. An additional danger is that drugs may become intentionally or unintentionally contaminated. This is true of over-the-counter, prescription and illicit street drugs.

Over-the-Counter Drugs

As with other types of products, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs can be contaminated during manufacturing or distribution. In 2010 for example a number of OTC products were recalled because they had become contaminated by preservatives and flame retardants in the wooden pallets used to ship them. The problem of contaminants being released from pallets is elevated in warmer temperatures because heat accelerates offgassing. Some people who used the contaminated drugs reported nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or stomach pain.

Over-the-counter drugs may also be contaminated with other, non-listed pharmaceutical products. In 2012 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and drug maker Novartis announced a recall of various OTC products because of the possibility that certain Novartis drugs might contain stray tablets or capsules of other medications. The concern was magnified because the problematic manufacturing plant makes both OTC and prescription medications including narcotic painkillers.

The problem of drug contamination is a larger one than people may realize. In 2013 the FDA announced that a variety of OTC weight loss products had been found to be contaminated with various chemicals and prescription drugs. On a question and answer page regarding the products, the FDA listed 72 products and the contaminants found. They note, “Unfortunately, FDA cannot test and identify all weight loss products on the market that have potentially harmful contaminants in order to assure their safety. Enforcement actions and consumer advisories for unapproved products only cover a small fraction of the potentially hazardous weight loss products marketed to consumers on the internet and at some retail establishments.”

Prescription Medications

The same potential problems that exist with OTC drugs also exist with prescription products. Although there is generally more attention paid to the safety of prescription medications, the FDA is not able to inspect all manufacturing facilities. Consumer Reports notes that the FDA inspects the approximately 3,000 drug plants in the USA about once every two and a half years. Many drugs on the U.S. market, however, are imported from overseas facilities (or some of their ingredients are), and the FDA only inspects about eight percent of them in any given year.

Drug contamination or adulteration is sometimes intentional. In 2001 a pharmacist was found to have been diluting chemotherapy drugs to increase his profit. An Associated Press report noted that some of the drug bags contained less than one percent of the prescribed dosages.

Drugs can also be counterfeited. This is especially likely with drugs that have high addiction potential and therefore a high black market value. Counterfeit drugs are not generally made in well-regulated factories. This raises the risk of dosage variability and contamination caused by improper storage or transport. Black market drug manufacturers may also cut the active ingredient with cheap fillers or even substitute a less expensive psychoactive drug and include none of the purported drug being sold.

Illicit Drugs

Because illicit or street drugs are not regulated, people who purchase them have a higher risk of acquiring a drug that has been unintentionally contaminated, intentionally laced with another substance, or substituted with another compound. Dosages may also be misrepresented. Some common ways that drugs are adulterated include the following:

  • Cocaine – Cocaine is often laced with anesthetics like lidocaine, benzocaine, or procaine. It is also frequently cut with sugars like glucose, lactose, or mannitol
  • Amphetamine – Amphetamine may be laced with caffeine, ephedrine, sugars, chalk, or talcum powder.
  • Ecstasy (MDMA) – Tablets sold as ecstasy may contain a wide variety of other drugs in addition to or in place of MDMA. These include similar drugs like MDA or MDEA as well as caffeine, amphetamine, ketamine and ephedrine.
  • Heroin – Heroin may be diluted with acetaminophen, quinine, dimethocaine, procaine, sugars, caffeine, or starch. Sometimes other opioids like fentanyl are substituted or added.

There are myriad risks of using contaminated or adulterated drugs. Dosage variations can lead to overdoses, which are potentially fatal. Many adulterated drugs are laced with potentially toxic compounds, which can cause extreme and sometimes irreversible health effects. Even fairly innocuous fillers can be a problem for those who are allergic or sensitive to them.

Address Addiction as Soon as Possible

The danger of contaminated drugs is just one in a long list of reasons that addiction should be addressed and treated as soon as it is identified. If you are in need of addiction treatment, we can help you find it. Call our toll-free helpline and let our compassionate phone counselors answer your questions. They can also check your insurance coverage if you wish, at no cost or obligation. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, so there is never a wrong time to call. Why not call now?