The People's Perspective on Medicine

How Can You Tell if Your Drug Is Recalled?

What should you do when your drug is recalled? Check the lot number (if you can find it) and ask the pharmacy about returning it.
Recall stamp illustration isolated on white background.

If you buy a can of tomatoes or infant formula, you will find a Lot Number and a Use By/Expiration Date. This allows you to instantly identify a product that might have a problem. Supermarkets scan products during check out. If a can of beans is recalled, someone can contact you to bring them back for a refund. Why can’t your pharmacist do that if your drug is recalled? Why can’t you find a lot number on your prescription bottle? 

A Reader Wants to Know About Drug Lot Numbers:

Q. Two years ago, I read an article you wrote about the lack of lot numbers on prescription drug labels. As of today, the problem still exists, in that lot numbers do not appear on individual prescription bottles.

What suggestions do you have to pressure pharmaceutical companies to include the lot number on bottle labels?

I take the blood pressure medicine valsartan. I know that many manufacturers have had to recall this medicine because of contamination.

My pharmacist told me he doesn’t have any knowledge or access to lot number information. Just sign me Frustrated!

A. We share your frustration, but it is a bit more complicated than you think. Pharmaceutical companies must print the lot numbers on all brand name and generic medications they ship to drug stores.

Repacking Pills:

The problem occurs when pharmacists take pills out of big bottles and put them into small amber bottles and print a label with your name on it. During this repackaging process the lot number is lost.

It is less expensive per pill for the pharmacy to buy a bottle with 1000 pills than a bottle with 30 pills. That is why it is so common for people to get a little orange pill bottle that has the pharmacy label rather than the manufacturer’s label.

Because of repackaging, it is nearly impossible for you or your pharmacist to tell whether your drug is recalled. Unlike grocery stores, most pharmacies do not keep an electronic computer record of which patients received which lot numbers of which drugs.

If you doubt us, here is an article we wrote so you can check for yourself. It will test your ability to find a lot number on your bottle of pills:

Why Is Your Prescription Drug Label A Disaster?

If Your Drug Is Recalled What Should You Do?

There have been so many drug recalls over the last year we have lost count. Millions of blood pressure pills like irbesartan, losartan and valsartan have been pulled off pharmacy shelves because of nitrosamine contamination. More recently, bottles of ranitidine (Zantac) have also been recalled.

Some of the companies involved in the recalls include Aurobindo, Camber, Heritage, Macleods, Mylan, Prinston, Sandoz, Solco, Teva and Torrent. Just in case you thought the nitrosamine recalls were over, Torrent Pharmaceuticals announced it was recalling lots of losartan and losartan plus hydrochlorothiazide just a few weeks ago. You can learn more at this link.

Readers Want to Know If Their Drug Is Recalled!

Beverly has taken some action:

“I’ve asked my pharmacy to package my losartan in the original bottle of 90 pills so that I can check the lot number when the next recall is issued. Where can I find the lot numbers covered on the latest recall of Torrent losartan?”

The problem is that when we looked at the Torrent announcement on the FDA’s website we could not locate lot numbers. Here is a link.  The NDC (National Drug Code) is not the same thing as a lot number! Please let us know if you find lot numbers.

Jim has suspicions about his mother’s medicine:

“My mom (age 69) has been diagnosed with stage IV liver and pancreatic cancer. She was taking losartan. It shows up on her pharmacy records. It is a recalled batch for having cancer-causing poison in it. That is the only NDC number she has that is recalled out of 15 other prescriptions so far that she had taken. The FDA has specific lot numbers listed, and I called the pharmacy and they said, ‘Uh, duh, we don’t keep track of that.’

“Before losartan use she had an ultrasound of her abdomen and all organs. That was December of 2016. Everything was fine, and the doctor found nothing wrong with her. I believe she went to be seen for digestion issues. No cancer was found. She lived a happy, active life with no health problems except high blood pressure up until June 2019.

“Losartan use began in November 2017 and finished in February 2019. The recalled batch was taken in March of 2018. I am also convinced that more of her losartan was tainted but it hasn’t been tested yet. In June, 2019, she went to the ER with nausea. The doctor ran some scans and found tumors all over her pancreas and liver.”

“Uh, duh, we don’t keep track of that,” is not an acceptable response to a question about lot numbers. It is past time for Congress to require every pill bottle dispensed in the U.S. to carry a lot number, a true expiration date and the NDC (national drug code). And it is essential for pharmacies to keep track of the lot numbers they dispense. If groceries can do this, why not pharmacies?

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below. While you are at it, please consider going ad-free on this website so we can continue to be your drug watchdog. Here’s our mission. We need your help to continue to stand up to the pharmaceutical industry and the FDA.

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    About the Author
    Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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    I have twice asked to speak to a pharmacist where I regularly purchase my Rx. He reassured that the lot # are checked for recalls before the large source containers of Losartan, for instance, are used. He seemed sure about this. I believe I can either worry or I can hope that he was telling me like it is.

    There’s an interesting exception to the lot number problem. And that involves an oral contraceptive – one that goes under a variety of names such as Apri, Isibloom, Emoquette, etc. Each individual pack has both the expiration date and, yes, the lot number imprinted on it. Each pack also has the NDC number. I’m guessing this is because these pills come sealed in punch packs and are not loose pills being transferred from one bottle to another.

    Unfortunately, from a financial point of view, I changed from Losartan to the brand name, Cozaar, a few months ago. I even wonder about the brand name, but trying to become informed regarding the recalls was overwhelming. It concerns me that there is so much encouragement for people to use generics, when we have data that indicates possible health damage from them. Many people have no idea. I do use generics but try to use them selectively, hoping for safer meds to use. Hoping!

    Many years ago I was a pharmacy tech in the Navy. When we filled or refilled an Rx we would write down the date, the lot number on the stock bottle and its expiration date, the manufacturer, and our ID number on the RX. This provided a ready source of information should a question arise. This also helped us in preventing the wrong medication being dispensed.

    I tried to check with the pharmacy on the latest recall, Losartan. All they could tell me was that my prescription was from a different company than the recall. Still, I felt unsure about the medecine since there have been multiple recalls on this med. Congress needs to say “Enough!”

    FDA should require pharmacies to print lot numbers on all prescriptions. A simple adjustment to the label printing program would do it. And it would only take seconds for the pharmacist to enter it. Sad when a can of tomatoes has a lot number for consumers to check but a possibly lethal prescription does not.

    I developed triple negative breast cancer out of the blue(no family history) in 2015 after taking Diovan HCZ for 5 years. I still have to take it, since no other blood pressure medicine works? My Pharmacy changed manufacturers, but is that a guarantee? I think not. What is a person to do? Herbal products don’t work either.
    NB on October 15, 2019

    If the pharmacy is buying a large bottle of pills, wouldn’t that bottle have a number on it? I ‘m sure they must have at least a purchase order online. Wouldn’t it have the same number? Seems like someone could write a simple computer program to pull that number off and print labels for the little pill bottles. At least the consumer would have a number to check.

    You are absolutely correct. Every bottle of pills from every drug manufacturer or distributor (brand or generic) comes with ALL the information on that label (Lot Number, NDC, Expiration Date, etc). For reasons that we do not understand, that information is not entered into pharmacy computers and is not transferred to the label that is put on amber bottles. We agree, this should be feasible. We do not understand why it has not been implemented.

    The FDA has shown their lack of concern for our health and now this. Recalls is just another example of being too out of touch. I am now worried about the Zantac recall. I questioned my pharmacy on this as I am taking Zantac. Their answer was they “have no answer”. Very scary.
    My pet dog is also on liquid Zantac. Am I giving her a daily dose of cancer ? All Zantac should be removed until they can absolutely rule out this medicine having carcinogenic concerns.

    Much talk -no useful solution.

    I felt I got the same run around answer when I went to my pharmacy to see if my Losartan/HCTZ was recalled because I had received a letter regarding my prescription. This happened TWICE. I had to insist that it be replaced the first time. Often, even if you’re getting the 90-pill original bottle, the pharmacy label covers the lot number, etc., and when it’s pulled back it takes the number with it! The system for recording lot numbers and expiration dates needs to change so that there’s no question in anyone’s mind. In this age of technology, why has this not been done already?

    * Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^