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When a Drug Like Buproprion Smells Bad

When food smells bad we know not to eat it. That's because it may be spoiled. What should we do if an antidepressant like bupropion smells bad?
When a Drug Like Buproprion Smells Bad
Wellbutrin and bupropion

Some drugs have a distinctive odor. That’s a nice way of saying that some medications naturally smell nasty. For example, we have seen complaints that the blood pressure medicine diltiazem has a strong plastic-like odor. There have also been reports that some formulations of the diabetes drug metformin smell like stinky old socks or “dead fish” (Annals of Internal Medicine, Feb. 16, 2010).  Such smells may be “natural,” but when the antidepressant bupropion smells bad, beware. It could be bad news!

A Readers Says His Bupropion Smells Bad:

Q. I take bupropion 300 mg XL for depression. I’ve not had any problems with it previously, but the latest bottle smells like rotten eggs.

I called the pharmacist and they told me that some drugs smell and not to worry about it. They said that the drug is safe to take. True?

A. The drug company that developed the antidepressant bupropion (Wellbutrin) over 30 years ago was Burroughs Wellcome. A scientist who worked there told us that the terrible smell you describe indicates that the drug is deteriorating. He maintains that this odor is a sign of potential manufacturing problems.

The first generic formulation of Wellutrin XL 300 was given the name Budeprion XL 300. This long-acting bupropion came out towards the end of 2006. By February of 2007 we were hearing from readers of our syndicated newspaper column that they were having problems with this extended-release formulation.

The Generic Bupropion XL 300 Scandal:

Some people complained of insomnia, headaches, dizziness, anxiety, irritability, nausea, tremor, mood swings and panic attacks. Others reported that their depression had returned with a vengeance.

Many of the people who took this first generic version of Wellbutrin XL 300 complained to us that:

“the bupropion smells bad.”

We asked readers to send us their Budeprion XL 300 bottles so we could forward them to the FDA for analysis. The smell was distinctive.

Actually, that’s not true. The odor was awful. We specifically asked the FDA to investigate why the bupropion smells bad. The agency never responded.

The FDA Flip-Flops on Generic Bupropion:

We continued to badger the FDA for five years because we felt that lives were at stake. If an antidepressant does not work as expected, it could lead to severe depression and thoughts of suicide. Despite our continuous complaining, executives at the FDA kept insisting that the generic bupropion was fine and dandy.

The agency eventually concluded that there were indeed problems with Budeprion XL 300 and a few other generic versions of bupropion. On October 3, 2012, Teva’s generic formulation of Wellbutrin XL 300 was removed from the market because it was:

“…not therapeutically equivalent to the reference listed drug (RLD), Wellbutrin XL 300 mg.”

You can read about the whole sordid scandal at this link.

Other Readers Complain That Their Bupropion Smells Bad:

Don asks:

“Anyone know why my generic Wellbutrin (bupropion) smells like vinegar?”

Robert says his slow-release form of bupropion smells bad:

“I have been taking bupropion SR for years. My doctor changed the dosage. With that, my pharmacy changed the manufacturer. I have never noticed an odor with previous dosages. This formulation has a strong sickening sweet smell. This smell cannot be right. I am returning it to my pharmacy.”

J.R. also says his bupropion smells bad and he is a retired chemist:

“I just got a refill of bupropion XL generic from India. The pills smell horrible. After taking this drug for many years, I think I would have noticed if any of the suppliers I used in the past made tablets that smell objectionable. I would say the odor is sulfide-like.

“The pharmacy said the smell was from the desiccant insert in the original package being exhausted. I have not taken any yet, and I really do not want to. If I wanted cheap drugs from India, I know places I can order them for less than my co-pay at the pharmacy. I don’t think I am a nut job. I was an organic chemist and botanist by trade (now retired).

“The patent does not protect the end product in India. It only protects the way it is manufactured. That pretty well ensures that they will make a drug with a different set of reagent chemicals then what a licensed company in the western hemisphere would use. Will it end up the same? All I can say is: maybe – MAYBE NOT.”

Testing Your Bupropion:

How can we tell if your generic bupropion has a problem? Valisure is an online pharmacy in New Haven, CT. This is the only pharmacy that actually tests every lot of every drug that it sells.

The folks at Valisure (who underwrite our podcasts and support our newsletter) have agreed to test bupropion for free. Any reader of the People’s Pharmacy who requests a ValiCheck for impurities can get their pills tested for free by using the code BUPTEST.

You can also order bupropion XL 300 through Valisure and know that it has passed this pharmacy’s stringent quality testing process. That goes for any brand or generic medication, not just bupropion. When you use the code PEOPLE for your first order, there is no charge for shipping.

Here is the link to Valisure.

Final Words:

Your pharmacy should find another supplier. Buying the brand name Wellbutrin XL 300 is not a viable option for most people. That’s because the retail price for 30 pills is over $2,300. Even with a coupon the brand can cost more than $2000.

That means a year’s supply could amount to something in excess of $24,000. Very few insurance companies are willing to pay that much for the brand name medicine. They don’t seem to care if the generic bupropion is up to snuff, just as long as it doesn’t cost too much. That’s why consumers may have to find other ways to get high quality medicines at an affordable price.

Do you know someone who is taking generic medication? Who isn’t these days. You may want to let them know that Valisure tests every lot of medicine that it sells. We only wish the FDA did this kind of testing. Until pharmacies can guarantee the quality of all the generic drugs they sell we think it makes sense to “trust but verify,” to quote one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite expressions.

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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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