The contamination of a popular blood-pressure medicine is now a global problem

Fears of being tainted.
Fears of being tainted.
Image: Reuters/Bryan Woolston
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The US recall of the drug valsartan—common in medicines used to control blood pressure—has gone global.

The European Union, Taiwan, and South Korea have all issued recalls of their own now, deepening fears that a case of contamination at a Chinese site might be more widespread than previously thought.

The initial recall was issued in July by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after it was discovered that a manufacturing change at China’s Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceutical Co. inadvertently exposed the valsartan used by several US brands to an organic chemical called N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA). That chemical is considered a probable carcinogen, and can be toxic for the liver and other organs. It has been used by scientists to induce cancer in lab rats.

At least 10 pharmaceutical companies who source valsartan from the Chinese plant are on the FDA’s list (pdf) of companies that have been affected. The list includes: Teva Pharmaceuticals, Prinston Pharmaceutical Inc., AvKare, Remedy Repack, A-S Medication Solutions, Bryant Ranch Prepack Inc., HJ Harkins Company, Proficient Rx, Major Pharmaceuticals, and Northwind Pharmaceuticals.

As previously detailed by Quartz, the extra caution around the possible presence of NDMA in blood-pressure medication is cause for major concern: The chemical has a rich history associated with crime-related deaths. It’s been slipped into lemonade, water, even blackberry jam (in German) as a way to poison people.

Not all valsartan that has been sold is feared to have been contaminated. The FDA says people who currently take valsartan should continue consuming the medications as prescribed until their physician provides a replacement or a different form of treatment.