The drugs giant Pfizer has pulled over a million mixed-up oral contraceptive pills from the market after a processing error at a pharmaceutical factory.
There have been several reports in the news recently about medicines becoming mixed up and getting out into the marketplace (the Digital Journal ran a recent feature about Novartis and a common migraine tablet). Now the latest error by a drugs company concerns contraceptive pills.
A mix-up at a drugs factory owned by the pharma giant Pfizer, as the Daily Mail reports, has led to an error which means many sets of tablets simply will not work. The problem came from a mechanical failure on the production line and a failure of a post-packing visual inspection by employees.
The reason for the tablets being withdrawn relates to the types and numbers of tablets in each pack. Each pack contains 21 white tablets that contain the synthetic hormones norgestrel and ethinyl estradiol and are taken for 21 consecutive days. The remaining seven tablets are inactive pink pills taken for a week. So the issue is that the balance between the tablets which contain ingredients which are 'active' (that is the chemicals which are intended to affect the body) are not present in the correct number relative to those which contain ingredients which are 'inactive' (things which just give the tablet bulk). According to ABC News this means that many tablets simply will not work and that the wrong ratio of tablets could be taken, and for birth control that is a major problem with women at risk from an unwanted pregnancy.
Bloomberg state that the recall affects batches of Lo/Ovral-28 pills and non-branded 'generic' products: norgestrel and ethinyl estradiol tablets. The pills were made and packed by Pfizer although they were marketed by Akrimax Rx Products under the Akrimax Pharmaceuticals brand ( a sign that the labeling and distribution of medicines requires its own road map).
The pills do not pose a health threat but they could have serious consequences for family planning. Pfizer said in their press release:
"Consumers exposed to affected packaging should begin using a non-hormonal form of contraception immediately. Patients who have the affected product...should notify their physician and return the product to the pharmacy."
Pfizer is the world's largest drug maker, manufacturing prescription pharmaceuticals, non-prescription self-medications, and animal health products such as anti-infective medicines and vaccines.