01 February 2009

Food Dye and Prescription Drugs

Food manufacturers have to list all the sweeteners, food colorings and preservatives their product contains. So do manufacturers of over-the-counter drugs. But did you know that labeling of "inactive" ingredients remains voluntary for manufacturers of prescription drugs?

I didn't either. Until this morning, when my asthmatic son's peak flow (a measure of his ability to breathe) had plummeted from 210 to 165 overnight, after an evening dose of Azithromycin prescribed for an ear infection combined with a sinus infection, after a week of night-time coughing fits.

My son takes three prescription medications daily to keep his symptoms under control. But when he gets an upper-respiratory infection, things get immediately worse, so we treat the symptoms pretty aggressively with over-the-counter medications.

We don't keep candy around. Halloween is the only opportunity for my son to have sweets. Since he's allergic to dairy, the chocolate candies are generally out, so this year we let him have a few lollipops and skittles and the like, and then "lost" the rest of the haul. His asthma spiked. Over the months since then, we've narrowed it down to Red #40 as the culprit.

So, we went through all the OTCs. Threw out all the ones with Red #40. Searched multiple pharmacies, read the miniscule type on numerous labels, and eventually found alternatives without any red dye.

Then my son coughed all week. We took him to the doctor. I already mentioned the diagnosis. We asked the doctor to write on the prescription label that he needed a formulation without any red dye. My husband went to the pharmacy. The pharmacist can't find anything anywhere on the package that mentions inactive ingredients.

So this morning I took a walk over to my neighborhood Duane Reade. It being a Sunday morning, the place was empty, so the pharmacist had time to talk to me and inspect the labels on a whole bunch of different containers. Nuthin'.

Which is when I came home and did another Google search and found this, from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
Because of an increasing number of reports of adverse reactions associated with pharmaceutical excipients, in 1985 the Committee on Drugs issued a position statement recommending that the Food and Drug Administration mandate labeling of over-the-counter and prescription formulations to include a qualitative list of inactive ingredients. However, labeling of inactive ingredients remains voluntary. Adverse reactions continue to be reported....

If you're reading this blog, do me a favor. Go write to the FDA, the Surgeon General, or the President. Tell them that labeling of inactive ingredients needs to be mandatory on prescription drugs. In fact, tell them that prescription drugs don't need any food coloring. If you do, would you please let me know?

Thank you.

Oh, and by the way? Red #40 and various other dyes known to cause reactions in a small part of the population -- but which the FDA insists are safe -- will be phased out in Europe by the end of the year. Big Pharma will be insisting it's too expensive to reformulate their medications without the dyes ... but if they're not already for sale in Europe, they will be by the end of the year.