FDA Backtracks on Unapproved Drug Warning Letters

Angie Drakulich

Angie Drakulich was editorial director of Pharmaceutical Technology.

ePT--the Electronic Newsletter of Pharmaceutical Technology

In late March, the US Food and Drug Administration sent warning letters to nine companies to stop manufacturing 14 unapproved narcotic drugs. Less than two weeks later, on Apr. 9, the agency amended those letters when it realized that one particular unapproved opioid (a high concentrate of morphine sulfate oral solution) is desperately needed by patients.

In late March 2009, the US Food and Drug Administration sent Warning Letters to nine companies asking them to stop manufacturing 14 unapproved narcotic drugs. Less than two weeks later, on Apr. 9, 2009, the agency amended those letters when it realized that one particular unapproved opioid (a high concentrate of morphine sulfate oral solution) is desperately needed by patients.

As part of FDA’s unapproved drugs initiative, launched in June 2006, the original Warning Letters went to: Boehringer Ingelheim Roxane (Columbus, OH), Cody Laboratories (Cody, WY), Glenmark Pharmaceuticals (Mahwah, NJ), Lannett Company (Philadelphia, PA), Lehigh Valley Technologies (Allentown, PA), Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals Group (St. Louis), Physicians Total Care (Tulsa, OK), Roxane Laboratories (Columbus, OH), and Xanodyne Pharmaceuticals (Newport, KY). The letters asked the companies to stop manufacturing and distributing unapproved products that included high-concentrate morphine sulfate oral solutions and immediate-release tablets containing morphine sulfate, hydromorphone, or oxycodone (oxycodone capsules were not included).

The original FDA press release about the nine Warning Letters stated, “FDA has determined that removal of the unapproved narcotic products will not create a shortage for consumers.” The agency had to backtrack when it received “concerns from patients and healthcare professionals in the palliative care community” that one of the affected opioid products (specifically 20 mg/mL morphine sulfate oral solution) is used to alleviate pain in terminally ill patients. FDA’s Apr. 9 release therefore stated, “The agency has determined that this dosage form is medically necessary, and should remain on the market until an approved alternative becomes available to the patients that need it.”

Companies manufacturing versions of high-concentrate morphine sulfate solution can now continue to do so, but only on an interim basis.

The very next day, Apr. 10, FDA announced permanent injunctions against contract manufacturer Neilgen Pharmaceuticals (Westminster, MD) and its parent company, Advent Pharmaceuticals (East Windsor, NJ), to prevent them from manufacturing and distributing any unapproved, adulterated, or misbranded drugs. An injunction was also filed against two of the companies’ officers, Bharat Patel and Pragna Patel. Neilgen, which operates as Unigen Pharmaceuticals, had been manufacturing unapproved prescription cough and cold products. The companies signed a consent decree to destroy their drug supply and to stop manufacturing and distributing any new drugs without FDA approval.

Read FDA’s guidance document on unapproved drugs.

Read a related blog post on PharmTech Talk.