Fimea, the Finnish Medicines Agency, announced Wednesday it has called on pharmacies and hospitals to stop distributing some varieties of the high blood pressure treatment drug Valsartan.
Valsartan is used to treat high blood pressure and congestive heart failure and to extend the lives of those who've suffered heart attacks. The drug is used by some 20,000 people in Finland.
However, Fimea said that variants of Valsartan sold by ten firms (listed at the end of this article) contain the organic chemical N-Nitrosodimethylamine which has been found to cause cancer in animals.
The affected medications are produced in China by pharmaceutical firm Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceutical. Fimea said the European Medicines Agency is looking into the matter as well.
Fimea said that it is not clear how much the substance increases the risk of cancer, but has recommended that patients who use it contact their local pharmacy for substitutes.
Patients should keep taking affected meds
Despite the removal of the drug from Finnish pharmacies Fimea said that past of the use of the drug does not pose any immediate health risks.
Laura Ahonen, a branch manager from Finnish pharmacy chain Yliopiston Apteekki, urged patients who are taking the affected Valsarstan preparations to continue taking the medicine as prescribed until they secure a replacement for the drug.
Ahonen emphasised that high blood pressure patients should absolutely not stop taking their medication.
"If you can't get to the pharmacy right away, the most important thing is to get a replacement as soon as possible. There is no immediate danger, so it's better to continue taking the drug even if the pharmacy can't get a substitute right away," she said.
Pharmacies will not charge extra for the new medication even if it costs more than the one originally prescribed.
The medications being removed from the market are sold under the following brand names:
• Valsarstad (Stada Nordic)
• Valsartan Actavis (Actavis Group PTC ehf)
• Valsartan Orion (Orion Pharma)
• Valsartan ratiopharm (Ratiopharm GmbH)
• Valsartan Sandoz (Sandoz A/S)
• Valsartan/hydroklorotiazid Actavis (Actavis Group PTC ehf)
• Valsartan/hydrochlorothiazide Orion (Orion Pharma)
• Valsartan/hydrochlorothiazide ratiopharm (Ratiopharm GmbH)
• Valsartan/hydrochlorothiazide Sandoz (Sandoz A/S)
• Valsarstad Comp (Stada Nordic)