String of fatal poisonings from toxic hand sanitizer highlights limits of FDA powers

String of fatal poisonings from toxic hand sanitizer highlights limits of FDA powers

October 2, 2020 Off By administrator

A 44-year-old man in the Southwest,
seeking medical treatment after his vision suddenly deteriorated in late
spring, admitted that he had been drinking hand sanitizer for a few
days. Blood tests revealed he had been poisoned by methanol, an
extremely toxic form of alcohol that is never supposed to be used in
consumer products like hand sanitizer. Despite treatment, he was left
permanently blind.

The case was part of a disturbing
trend that toxicologists in New Mexico and Arizona caught wind of
beginning in May. Dr. Steven Seifert, medical director of the New Mexico
Poison and Drug Information Center, noticed that two adults had been
hospitalized after drinking hand sanitizer made with methanol. In June,
the center treated three more adults who had been poisoned by methanol,
making it “absolutely clear that there was something circulating in our
state,” said Seifert, who notified New Mexico’s Department of Public
Health.

The coronavirus pandemic has triggered a huge spike in demand for hand sanitizer, and with it, a shortage of ethanol,
which is typically used as the active ingredient in hand sanitizers.
That may be leading to the use of a highly toxic substitute — methanol,
or wood alcohol — in products that have been rushed onto store shelves
in the United States. The FDA has counted 17 deaths from exposure to
methanol-tainted sanitizer this year, and spokesman Jeremy Kahn says the
agency has received an additional 2,000 reports of exposure or
injuries.

It’s a vivid example of the Food and
Drug Administration’s lack of authority to crack down on dangerous
over-the-counter drugs, a category that includes hand sanitizers. The
FDA has responded by issuing numerous alerts about
the dangers of ingesting methanol-containing sanitizers and asking
manufacturers to issue recalls. But the agency lacks authority to force
recalls, and some manufacturers have delayed taking action, according to
warnings issued by the FDA and a FairWarning review of the agency’s
database of hand sanitizers to avoid.

Despite the FDA’s warnings, methanol-tainted hand sanitizer
ended up at retail outlets across the U.S., including at Dollar Tree,
where it was sold as the store brand, according to the FDA. The retail
chain stopped selling it after the manufacturer recalled it and said in
an email, “We continue to be committed to our customers’ safety.

In another case, on July 1, the FDA
told a Mexican company, Soluciones Cosméticas, that samples of its
Bersih brand sanitizer seized at the border by customs agents were found
to be contaminated with methanol. But it took another two weeks before
the company agreed to pull the product from store shelves in the U.S.,
according to a warning letter
that the FDA sent. The agency also asked the company to recall two
other brands of hand sanitizer it manufactured and sold for U.S.
consumers, but if it’s done so, it hasn’t yet notified the FDA. The
company did not…

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