HEALTH

Children's National doctor alerts FDA to illegal antibiotics sales

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WASHINGTON (WJLA) - There is a dangerous cough syrup still on some store shelves despite a warning from federal health officials. The medicine is not approved for use in the U.S., and local doctors are seeing a painful, blistering rash on people who use the product. 

A pediatric dermatologist at Children's National Medical Center in Washington made the discovery and set off the nationwide alert that Baczol contains powerful antibiotics and should not be used without supervision by a doctor, if at all.

While we found the drug in one store in Columbia Heights, a team of med students found it in 30 percent of Latino grocery stores they surveyed across D..C., Maryland, and Virginia. The owner of that particular Columbia Heights store pulled a box of Baczol out of a black suitcase, clearly labeled in Spanish, for prescription sale strictly in El Salvador.

Dr. Scott Norton became aware of the illegal cough medicine when a 7-year-old patient of Salvadoran descent developed painful blisters.

“To a dermatologist’s eye it was like a bright blinking neon light, a fixed drug eruption,” Dr. Norton says.

The boy’s family had no idea the top two ingredients were powerful antibiotics that could cause serious, even deadly, side effects.

By law, Baczol that is made in El Salvador with two antibiotic ingredients is not supposed to be imported because without a doctor’s supervision it can have serious side effects like erosions, lesions, kidney failure, and bone marrow failure. There is a safe and legal version of the cough medicine with the same name and similar packaging, but without the antibiotics.

Dr. Norton alerted medical authorities, prompting the FDA to issue a safety alert, warning Spanish-speaking communities about the potential for life-threatening reactions.

“The FDA has the statutory authority to enforce these regulations, but they don’t have the manpower and budget to do this," he says.

And even though the CDC followed with a notice in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Dr. Norton has evidence the product is still on shelves nationwide.

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