FRIDAY, Jan. 15 (HealthDay News) -- As a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary expanded its recall of some of its over-the-counter drugs on Friday, federal health officials said a warning letter has been sent to the company for failing to act quickly to take the products off the shelves after customers were sickened by a moldy smell on the medications.
"This morning, McNeil Consumer Healthcare voluntarily expanded its recall of over-the-counter drugs to include approximately 500 lots of products," Deborah M. Autor, director of the Office of Compliance in the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said during a morning teleconference Friday.
The company's recall started last September and was limited to certain lots of Tylenol, although that recall was expanded in December. The recall now includes certain lots of Motrin, Benadryl, Rolaids and St. Joseph aspirin.
To date, there have been some 70 reports from consumers about the problem, and in some cases using these products has resulted in nausea, stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea, Autor said.
The company believes the contamination was caused by a chemical used to treat the wooden pallets on which packaging material is transported and stored. The chemical, 2,4,6-tribromoanisole (TBA), also occurs naturally and has been blamed for giving wine a moldy taste.
"The health effects of this chemical have not been well-studied, but no serious events have been documented in the medical literature," Autor said.
According to McNeil, it is possible that the TBA leeched into the packaging material and then into the products themselves.
While Autor commended the company for broadening its recall to include products that consumers have not complained about, she chastised them for acting too slowly to report and investigate the problem.
The first complaints of a musty odor in Tylenol Arthritis Relief Easy Cap products reached company officials in May 2008, but it wasn't until September of that year that the company began to investigate the problem.
Then, McNeil did not notify the FDA of the problem until September 2009, Autor said. "When something smells bad -- literally or figuratively -- companies must aggressively investigate and take all necessary action to solve the problem," she stressed.
Since then, the agency has repeatedly urged McNeil to identify the source of the problem and to recall affected products. Under current law, the FDA cannot order a recall, Autor noted.
The first recall of products was in early September 2009; the recall was expanded in December 2009 to include all Tylenol Arthritis Relief caplets. In addition, the FDA inspected McNeil's primary manufacturing plant in Las Piedras, Puerto Rico.
Based on this data, the agency has sent McNeil a warning letter citing multiple violations of "good manufacturing practice requirements," Autor said. "[The] FDA also warned McNeil for failing to report quality problems to the agency."
"McNeil and all drug manufacturers have a corporate responsibility to ensure their products are high-quality, safe and effective," Autor said. "When a problem arises with their products they must be proactive, quick and thorough in order to assure the quality, safety and effectiveness of their products and protect consumers."