Changes to thyroid drug formula blamed for sicknesses

Last updated 23:59 06/06/2008
BAD BATCH: Eltroxin, a government-funded drug prescribed for thyroid gland problems.

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Changes to the base ingredients of a Government-funded drug prescribed for thyroid gland problems have been blamed for making people sick.

A Gore woman, who has been taking the drug Eltroxin for more than 30 years, says she was just one of many who started suffering adverse side effects since the drug's manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, changed the formulation.

Lyn blames the new tablets for causing her sore and itchy eyes, weight gain and depression.

She feels much better since going off the new pills but stressed she was not advocating other people doing the same, Lyn said.

Government funding agency Pharmac and the pharmaceutical giant yesterday acknowledged they were aware of people's concerns.

Communications and corporate affairs manager Bernadette Basell said a medication reformulation often caused some concern because the tablets looked and maybe tasted different.

Changes in the manufacturing operation had required the reformulation.

She confirmed the manufacturing had moved from Canada to Germany but could not expand on the reasons why for commercial confidentiality reasons. MedSafe had approved the new formulation, Miss Basell said.

Last month GlaxoSmithKline sent a letter to doctors and pharmacists to address "an increased number of Eltroxin related queries".

The letter says the active ingredient in Eltroxin, known as thryoxine or levothyroxin, remained the same and in the same quantity.

However, the base ingredients were different due to changes in the manufacturing process.

The letter stressed that patients should take the drug on an empty stomach and not split the tablets.

Miss Basell said if the company had any concerns it would be making changes, in consultation with MedSafe.

A spokesman for Pharmac said it was MedSafe's job to address safety concerns and until that agency raised any issues Pharmac would continue to fund the drug.

Gore pharmacist Mark La Hood said he was aware of three customers who were not getting the "same results" as when they were on the old formulation.

Temuka pharmacist Allan Campbell was not as diplomatic and accused GlaxoSmithKline and Pharmac of trying to cover up a huge issue. He has six customers who have suffered adverse effects on the new formulation.

To tell patients not to cut tablets in half and take the drug on an empty stomach was "just a jackup to try and allay criticism of the drug", he said.

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Lyn said she never clicked on to the cause of her health problems until hearing on talkback radio about other people's reaction to the drug.

She put a call out for other sufferers to contact her and has had 25 people respond, she said.

While not wanting to be alarmist, Lyn believed people should have been made aware of the changes to Eltroxin and the potential problems.

"I'd like to get it (the drug) analysed to find out what's in it," she said.

MedSafe did not respond yesterday.

 

- The Southland Times

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