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Medicine Recall?

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Work in or around government for very long, and you’re bound to come across a bunch of crazy schemes, theories, warnings and more. It pays to check things out. So I wasn’t surprised to see an email in my inbox from Idaho’s Senator Shawn Keough, asking about an email warning she’d received. “What’s that website address where I can look this up?” she asked. “And have you heard anything about this one?”

“This one,” while headed ‘IMPORTANT!!!’ in all caps and exclamation marks, was rather low-key for the typical urban legend, and gave the following warning: “All drugs containing Phenylpropanolamine are being recalled. You may want to try calling the 800 number listed on most drug boxes and inquire about a REFUND.

“Please read this CAREFULLY, as I know that some of you may USE some of these drugs (Alka Seltzer Plus for one).

 “Also, please pass this on to everyone you know. STOP TAKING anything containing this ingredient. It has been linked to increased hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding in brain) among women ages 18-49 in the three days after starting use of medication. Problems were not found in men, but the FDA recommended that everyone (even children) seek alternative medicine.”

The email went on to list a whole host of common, over-the-counter medications, most of which have found a home in American medicine cabinets, including numerous Alka Seltzer products, Dexatrim, Comtrex, Dimetapp, Robitussin, Triaminic and more.

So what did urban legends guru  David Emery have to say about this warning? “This email has it mostly right. In November 2000, the FDA issued a public health advisory about phenylpropanolamine hydrochloride (PPA), the drug mentioned in the email. This drug is found in many over the counter (OTC) medicines, specifically in cold and flu remedies, as well as appetite suppressants. The drug will likely be banned, but because this process takes time, the FDA issued the health advisory in the meantime. The main problem with this drug is that it elevates your risk of having a hemorrhagic stroke, especially with (but not limited to) first time use among women. Because the uses of this drug are not serious enough to warrant taking even that small chance, the FDA recommends that you stop taking any medications containing the drug.

“One word of caution: Though the email states your risk is for "increased hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding in brain) among women ages 18-49 in the three days after starting use of medication," don't think you are safe if you've used the drug for longer than three days. The three-day window was merely one of the guidelines used in the study that prompted the health advisory; for the study, they defined PPA exposure as having used PPA within three days prior to the stroke. Risk of stroke may be present after three days of use. For detailed information, see the final report of the Hemorrhagic Stroke Project, Web-published by the FDA.”

This is a shining example of the inherent value of the Internet—how many of you read this warning in the headlines of a daily paper? Via email, however, the word is getting out.

Never take anything you receive via email at face value, however. Follow the example set by Senator Keough, and check out information before you send it on. If you have an email you’d like to verify, log on to the Urban Legends website. Or forward it on to us at The River Journal—we’d be happy to look and see whether another urban legend is making the rounds.


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Landon Otis

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urban legends

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