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Drug Recall: Does Your Topomax Smell Musty?

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pillsTopamax, an anti-seizure drug, apparently smells funny.

Users have reported instances of a moldy or musty odor coming from their prescriptions. Reports that have prompted Ortho-McNeil, a division of Johnson & Johnson, to institute a recall for an estimated 57,000 bottles of the pharmaceutical.

Melissa Cevallos of the Los Angeles Times bring us some data on the probable source of the offending smell:

The company said four consumers reported an “uncharacteristic odor” thought to be caused by trace amounts of TBA, a byproduct from a chemical used in treating wood. The TBA may have come from the wood pallets on which the medication is shipped and stored. The company is recalling two shipments from October and December 2010.

If you use Topamax, check to see if your bottle is part of the recall:

This particular recall applies to 100-milligram tablets of Topamax in bottles of 60 tablets with expiration-date markings of 06-2012 and 09-2012.

This is far from the first time that TBA has been the source of a drug recall. Pfizer issued a recall last October of Lipitor for these exact same reasons. Paul Eng at Consumer Reports tells us a little about TBA’s effects and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) stance on the contaminant:

As with other, recent recalls of McNeil drugs, the stench from the Topamax bottles is believed to be caused by trace amounts of 2,4,6 tribromoanisole, or TBAs.

The FDA believes TBA contamination isn’t harmful to humans. However, some consumers may experience gastrointestinal events from TBA-tainted drugs. The agency advises that users should consult with their physician or pharmacist with any questions.

McNeil has faced this issue before. Last year, they recalled a stunning variety of pharmaceuticals because of TBAs. Among others, that recall included Motrin, Benadryl, several varieties of  Tylenol, Rolaids, and St. Joesph Aspirin.

One fortunate thing about TBA contamination is that most of the time, it can be easily be detected. According to the FDA, the odor produced by TBA is easy to smell.

Image by Pink Sherbet Photography (D. Sharon Pruitt), used under its Creative Commons license.


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