Forbidden Medicines Still in Use

  • Drugs in Plain Sight

    Illegal drugs are being sold rampantly across America, and we’re not talking about the recreational kind. Drugs you are prescribed by a doctor and get at the pharmacy may actually be unapproved by federal regulators. In fact, there are hundreds if not thousands of drugs being sold today that aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Here are some of those drugs, what they are intended to treat and why they haven’t been FDA approved. Photo Credit: CabonNYC
    Drug History
  • Drug History

    Decades ago, pharmacies often prepared their own batches of prescription drugs, and those fresh concoctions weren’t submitted for approval. In fact, the FDA didn’t always require approval for all medicines. It was only in 1938 that new drugs were required to be approved for safety and in 1962 required to be proven effective, the FDA notes. Older drugs were initially exempt from the approval requirement, but a discovery in 1983 led regulators to question that policy. E-Ferol, a potent Vitamin E injection, was found to cause negative side effects in 100 premature infants, including 40 who died. Photo Credit: David55king
    Cracking Down
  • Cracking Down

    Besides being potentially unsafe, deadly or at the very least a waste of money, drugs that aren’t approved by the FDA – even though they’ve been used for years – could be keeping patients from getting safer and more effective treatments. Still, some of these treatments have been used for decades and have been approved by health regulators in other countries. In 2006, the FDA started to crack down on companies making drugs it hadn’t officially approved, issuing warnings and ultimately threatening seizure of the products. Since not all companies knew that they were making unapproved drugs, the FDA has provided a list of which drugs have been approved (though they don’t offer a full list of those that aren’t, CNN notes). The following list might surprise you. It includes many of these unapproved drugs, including painkillers, sedatives and even cough and cold medications. They can pose serious risks, even beyond addiction and have not been proven safe or effective for public. Photo Credit: Nancy Wombat
    Sodium Fluoride
  • Sodium Fluoride

    Use: Taken orally as a tablet to prevent or stop tooth decay. It is also included in many brands of toothpaste and has been used as an additive in drinking water. Risk: According to the Center for Natural Dentistry, sodium fluoride was never tested let alone proven to be effective in preventing or treating cavities. Frighteningly, it was previously sold as rat poison. Photo Credit: Sarah G
  • Phenobarbital

    Use: Phenobarbital is a fairly common sedative that’s never been approved by the FDA. It’s also used as a treatment for angina and post-traumatic epilepsy. It comes in capsules, tablets, elixirs and as phenobarbital sodium injections. Risk: Double the dose used for anesthesia can kill you. It was also reportedly used by Nazis to euthanize children in the Holocaust. Photo Credit: Electroshock Blues
  • Phenazopyridine

    Use: Phenazopyridine hydrochloride, sold under the popular brand name Uristat, may have been recalled from store shelves, but generics are still available. As the brand name implies, it’s a treatment for urinary tract infections. It has a local analgesic effect and it’s excreted in urine. Risk: Can cause jaundice, kidney or liver problems. While they’re unapproved, phenazopyridine hydrochloride tablets may still be available over the counter. Photo Credit: Foxtongue
    Pilocarpine Hydrochloride Eye Drops
  • Pilocarpine Hydrochloride Eye Drops

    Use: To treat eye pressure caused by glaucoma, a condition that can lead to optic nerve damage and blindness. Risk: It can burn, cause eye spasms, swelling and, more seriously, retinal detachment and even hypertension, according to eye treatment maker Bausch. Photo Credit: perpetualplum
    Thyroid Tablets
  • Thyroid Tablets

    Use: To treat hypothyroidism, also known as underactive thyroid, a condition that can lead to a number of different health problems including obesity, heart disease, infertility and joint pain, according to the Mayo Clinic. Risk: It may be widely used, but it has never been proven safe. Large doses may cause serious or life-threatening side effects like a fast or irregular heartbeat, inability to tolerate warm or hot temperatures, nervousness, shortness of breath, trembling, changes in menstrual periods, changes in weight and chest pain (just to name a few). Photo Credit: trekkyandy
    Nitroglycerin Sublingual Tablets
  • Nitroglycerin Sublingual Tablets

    Use: Taken as tablets that dissolve under the tongue and are used to treat angina, hypertension, heart attack and heart failure. Nitroglycerin sublingual tablets are sometimes used to keep prostate cancer from getting worse. Risk: It hasn’t been proven safe, and it can cause fainting, an irregular heartbeat and serious allergic reaction on rare occasions. Photo Credit: House of Sims
  • Ephedrine

    Use: Once widely used in the U.S. for weight loss, ephedrine was more traditionally used as a treatment for asthma and other respiratory conditions. It’s a naturally-occuring substance in an herbal supplement known as ma huang. The FDA even sued coffee giant Starbucks for selling tea that contained the chemical. Risk: Ephedrine has been linked to strokes, heart attacks and other serious side effects. Many forms of the drug have been pulled from the market, but ephedrine sulfate as capsules and injections may still be available. Photo Credit: Tacit Requiem
    Codeine and Combinations
  • Codeine and Combinations

    Use: To treat various types of mild to moderate pain. Risk: Codeine is widely known as an addictive drug and it could do more harm than good. It can cause an irregular heartbeat, shallow breathing, seizures and other serious side effects, according to WebMD. Single-ingredient narcotics like Codeine phosphate are unapproved and according to Compounding Today, a combination like codeine phosphate plus acetaminophen (an ingredient in Tylenol) and caffeine is also unapproved. Photo Credit: Adam UXB Smith
  • Hydrocodone

    Use: This drug is taken as a single drug or mixed with others like aspirin and caffeine to treat coughs, colds and pain. There are currently only a few drugs containing hydrocodone that are approved by the FDA, but at one point, there were hundreds being sold, many of which were used as cough and cold treatments, according to US Pharmacist. Risk: By 2005, the FDA had received more than 400 reports of serious side effects involving the nervous system, digestive system and lungs as well as cases of intentional and unintentional overdoses, according to US Pharmacist. Medications in which hydrocodone is the only active ingredient are not approved in the Unites States. Photo Credit: veeliam
  • Morphine

    Use: To treat moderate to severe pain when other painkillers don’t work. Risk: Besides the expected numbness and tingling, morphine can cause respiratory depression, meaning patients are unable to breathe. Last spring, the FDA cracked down on drug makers manufacturing a number of serious painkillers that weren't approved by the agency, including morphine sulfate in the form of tablets or an oral solution. Last month, the FDA had to issue a reminder to six companies telling them that legal action could be taken if they don’t stop production of the narcotic painkiller. Photo Credit: Evil Erin
  • Opium

    Use: This derivative of the poppy plant has actually been used as a medical treatment for decades in the U.S. in suppository form as B&O Supprettes to treat moderate to severe pain from bladder or rectal conditions. They’ve also been used to treat intestinal cramps and diarrhea. Opium tincture, also known as Laudanum, and opium tincture with camphor, also known as paregoric, have been used for diarrhea and pain as well as sleeplessness, academics note. Risk: When using any narcotics, there’s a fine line between sleep and eternal sleep. Photo Credit: bernadettemacphersonmorris
  • Oxycodone

    Use: To treat moderate to severe pain. Risk: It can be seriously addictive and should only be used by people who don’t react to more traditional pain medications, according to the National Institutes of Health. Drug company Glenmark Generics is working on getting FDA approval for its oxycodone hydrocholride solution. The drug is currently sold under the brand name Oxycontin in a timed release formula but isn’t approved by the FDA otherwise. Photo Credit: newtype2011
    Levothyroxine Sodium Injection
  • Levothyroxine Sodium Injection

    Use: This treatment is a thyroid hormone used to treat hypothyroidism, goiter and thyroid cancer. Risk: Levothyroxine sodium can cause chest pain, an increased heart rate, heat intolerance, nervousness and irregular menstrual cycles. Photo Credit: VirtualErn
  • Ergonovine

    Use: Given as an injection or in tablet form, Ergonovine is a uterine stimulant used to treat hemorrhaging after a baby is delivered, bleeding after an abortion or an incomplete abortion, according to WebMD. Risk: It can cause serious heart problems, and a severe overdose can cause seizures and gangrene, according to Medscape. Photo Credit: Hamed Saber
    Ergotamine Tartrate Tablets
  • Ergotamine Tartrate Tablets

    Use: To treat migraines and other vascular headaches. Risk: Ergotamine Tartrate can reduce blood flow to the brain as well as to the hands and feet. It’s not considered safe by the FDA. Photo Credit: miss rogue
    Digitoxin Tablets
  • Digitoxin Tablets

    Use: To regulate an irregular heart rate and reduce the symptoms of congestive heart failure. Risk: Side effects include confusion, dizziness or drowsiness, fainting spells, eye sensitivity, changes in color vision, fast heartbeat, very slow heartbeat, weakness or tiredness. Photo Credit: Arenamontanus
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