We all know substances like marijuana and cocaine are illegal in South Africa. But few people know that certain prescription medication is banned in the country – including some allergy medications.
Terfenadine, one of the most popular drugs for treating allergies, has been illegal since 1999. This antihistamine was widely prescribed, but research indicated the dangers of this medication. A Canadian study even found this medication to be “fatally poisoning”.
In SA, the manufacturing distribution, sale and marketing of medicines are controlled by the Medicines Control Council (MCC). The Medicines and Related Substances Act, (Act 101 of 1965) governs the industry and over the years several medications have been withdrawn. Prescribing, dispensing or being in procession of these medications is illegal. We did some digging and found seven medicines that are banned in SA.
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Terfenadine is found in medications such as Seldane and Triludan. It’s an antihistamine and is used to treat allergies, hives and other allergic inflammatory conditions. According to the World Health Organisation, in 1998 the Philippines was the first country to ban this medication due to its “association with severe cardiac adverse events when used inappropriately with contraindicated drugs”. South Africa followed suit and in 1999 our own MCC withdrew this medication form the market.
All Kava-containing medicines
The roots of the Kava plant are used to produce a drink with sedative and anaesthetic qualities. Since the early 1990’s Kava has been used to treat stress, anxiety and insomnia and a lot of over-the-counter supplements contained this plant as an active ingredient. In 2003 the MCC issued an urgent warning for all substances containing traces of this plant to be withdrawn from the market. “Kava-containing products have been associated with liver-related injuries including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver failure in reports of adverse events in other countries. Four patients required liver transplant,” the MCC announced.
This diabetes medication has been associated with an increased risk of heart attack and heart failure. One study found there is a 43% increase in the risk of developing a heart attack. Many countries have withdrawn Avandia and South Africa banned the medication in 2011.
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This drug is a powerful hypnotic medication prescribed for the short-term treatment of insomnia. According to the World Health Organisation, South Africa is thus far the only country that has restricted the use of Flunitrazepam. Since 1999 all 2mg formulations have been pulled from the market, and the 1mg tablets now has a schedule 6 classification. The MCC also decreed that all products containing this substance should be “reformulated to include a bitter taste and colorant in order to minimise risk of illegal use in facilitating crimes”.
This potent muscle relaxant was discontinued in many countries because of its association with Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a life-threatening skin condition. This “unacceptable risk-benefit profile” prompted the South African authority to withdraw this medication in 1998.
Barbiturates in asthma medications
Barbiturates are drugs that act on the central nervous system and are used to treat cluster headaches, migraines, anxiety disorders and insomnia. They include amobarbital, pentobarbital, and hexobarbital. In 1998 the MCC withdrew asthmatic preparations containing barbiturates due to too many serious side-effects. Nausea or vomiting, fever and confusion are side-effects of barbiturates and many studies have shown the negative interaction with other agents in asthma medications.
Mibefradil is a drug used to treat hypertension and chronic angina pectoris. In 1998 the MCC withdrew this medication because of safety concerns in relation to potential for serious drug interactions. Chest pain, slow heartbeat and an abnormally low blood pressure are some of the more serious side-effects.
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