My Medication Has Been Recalled: What Now?

Doug Mann

Thankfully, most medications we use on a daily basis are relatively safe. However, drug recalls are not entirely uncommon either. Here is what to do when a medication you have been using gets recalled.

Many Americans rely on prescription drugs. In fact, the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University says more than 130 million people–nearly 2/3 of all U.S. adults–use prescription medications. While older Americans tend to take more prescription drugs, more than half of those 18-34 use prescription medications, at an average of three prescriptions per year. 

Sometimes, those medications are short-term, such as an antibiotic to treat an infection. But, others are used to manage long-term or chronic medical conditions. Patients who regularly take medications for cardiac issues, high blood pressure, auto-immune diseases, and other conditions may depend on those medications to keep their health stable. And, some prescription medications should not be terminated abruptly. 

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So, what happens when a medication you take regularly is recalled? 

What Not to Do When Your Prescription Drug is Recalled

The first step when you learn of a prescription drug recall is to avoid putting your health at risk. That means: 

  1. Do not ignore the recall and continue to take the medication as usual because you already have enough to last 30 or 60 or 90 days, and
  2. Do not just throw away the medication and go on with your life

How to handle a transition when your prescription medication has been recalled is a medical decision that should be made in consultation with your medical provider. Your doctor may tell you that it’s okay to stop the medication without replacing it. Or, they may prescribe a different medication to take the place of the one you were taking. If they prescribe a new medication, they may want you to start taking it immediately, or may advise a short gap between the two drugs. Depending on the reason for the recall, they may want to run blood tests or some other type of screening. 

The upshot is that there are many variables in play that the average person isn’t aware of or may not know how to weigh. Ask your doctor how to proceed, and do it right away. 

Why are Medications Recalled? 

If you look at the Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) listing of drug recalls, you’ll see hundreds of entries across the past five years. That can be unsettling, but it’s important to remember that drugs are recalled for many reasons, and sometimes the recall reflects a short-term problem. 

For example, so far in 2022, at least four drugs have been recalled due to labeling problems. A labeling issue can be dangerous, either because it provides inadequate or inaccurate instruction or because missing dosage labels can cause dangerous errors in administration. But, that type of recall doesn’t reflect a risk inherent in the medication. The FDA makes specific recommendations in each case, perhaps as simple as trading in the medication you have for the same product from a different batch.

Similarly, drugs are sometimes recalled because there’s something wrong with a particular batch–maybe there’s concern that it was contaminated at the manufacturing facility, or there’s reason to believe that it was inadvertently stored at a temperature that may diminish its effectiveness or create other problems. An example of this occurred earlier this summer, when the FDA announced that a pharmaceutical company was recalling a certain lot of a particular nasal spray due to microbial contamination. The solution in that case was as simple as returning the product for a replacement from a different lot. 

But sometimes, medications are recalled because they’ve been linked to serious medical risks. 

Defective or Dangerous Drugs

One well-known example of the third type of medication recall is the 2020 recall of Zantac / ranitidine. That recall didn’t involve a problem with a particular batch or a particular brand, but a risk potentially associated with the drug in all forms. All prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) forms of ranitidine were recalled from the U.S. market due to the risk of unacceptable levels of NDMA, a substance that has been linked to many forms of cancer. 

In that case, the FDA recommended that patients speak with their healthcare providers before they stopped taking the medication. 

When Medications Make You Sick

We count on the medications our healthcare providers recommend and prescribe to keep us healthy, or at least to help manage symptoms and ongoing medical conditions. But, sometimes those drugs can have the opposite impact, causing illness or complications even more serious than the condition being treated. 

The Zantac example above is one illustration of that scenario. Ranitidine products were typically prescribed for a handful of specific gastrointestinal issues, including acid reflux. But, the drug was ultimately linked with an increased risk of several types of cancer. When dangerous and defective medications make you sick, or you lose a loved one due to the effects of a medication, you may be entitled to compensation. And, the drug need not necessarily have been recalled for an injured patient or surviving family member to have a cause of action. 

For example, the prescription drug Elmiron has been linked to a rare but serious form of macular degeneration. This condition can cause difficulty reading, blurred vision, dark spots in the field of vision, eye pain, and even blindness. But, Elmiron has not been recalled. Instead, the FDA approved new labeling that warns of the risk of this specific risk, and recommended regular eye screenings for patients taking the drug. That’s at least in part because the drug is the only one currently approved for treatment of a serious bladder condition. 

Still, as of July 15, there were more than 1,700 Elmiron lawsuits pending in consolidated litigation in federal court. 

What to Do after a Drug Recall or New Warnings

The first and most important step upon learning that your medication has been recalled or that new risks have been discovered is to consult the physician who prescribed that medication for you. Making independent decisions about when and how to stop taking a drug or transition to a different medication can put your health at risk. 

Depending on the reason for the recall or nature of the new warnings, you may also need to discuss follow-up with your physician. For example, everyone who took Elmiron for a certain amount of time is advised to undergo screening, as the condition connected with the drug can continue to develop and worsen after the patient stops taking the medication. 

If you have health conditions or effects that have been linked to a medication you took, you should also consult an experienced defective drug lawyer about your rights and options. You may be entitled to compensation even if you stopped taking the drug before the recall, or were diagnosed with the related condition years ago. But, there are time limits, and calculating the cut-off for filing your claim can be complicated under Ohio law

If you have taken a drug that has been recalled or has been linked with increased risks of a medical condition you suffer from, or you have lost a family member to a condition linked to a recalled medication, it’s in your best interest to talk with an attorney right away. You can schedule a free consultation right now by calling 937-222-2222 or filling out the contact form on this site. 

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