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Novartis Quality Problems and Plant Closure Cause Headaches for Vets and Pets

Veterinary medicine has been plagued by product shortages and recalls since the day I entered the field. Supply and production issues at factories combined with...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Feb 10th 2012


Veterinary medicine has been plagued by product shortages and recalls since the day I entered the field. Supply and production issues at factories combined with corporate mergers and hegemony have caused inconsistent supplies of many critical drugs. Some of the most memorable shortages of my career have involved the anesthetics propofol and ketamine, the diabetes treatment Vetsulin, and euthanasia solution. Currently unavailable or difficult to obtain are the only heartworm medication for dogs as well as the painkiller fentanyl and the antiseizure medication diazepam.

Sadly, the list appears set to expand rapidly because of the closure of a major American drug manufacturing facility.

Novartis, a Swiss drug maker, produces (or, rather, produced) veterinary products including the heartworm preventatives Interceptor and Sentinel and the separation anxiety treatment Clomicalm. Its human products include Bufferin, Excedrin, NoDoz, and Gas-X, and narcotic painkillers like morphine, all of which were manufactured at the same factory in Lincoln, Nebraska.

That factory has closed in the wake of scathing quality control reports issued by the US Food and Drug Administration. It is unclear whether the closure will affect the availability of other Novartis products such as the arthritis drug Deramaxx.

Novartis’ handling of the situation has led to ire among veterinarians, who feel that they were advised too late. Many vets I know also have complained that the company’s communications have contained much more spin than helpful information. In my opinion, this is standard operating procedure for any large corporation embroiled in this type of controversy.

Novartis has issued a warning that there may be tablet mix-ups in certain batches of the anti-anxiety drug Clomicalm, so veterinarians and pet owners are urged to be vigilant for unusual or broken pills in bottles. Novartis isn’t saying what might be contaminating the supply, but pet owners should be aware that morphine, as well as the aspirin and acetaminophen in Excedrin and the caffeine in NoDoz and Excedrin, could pose significant health risks to dogs that are accidentally exposed.

The loss of Interceptor and Sentinel is significant, since these drugs — which contain the same anti-heartworm ingredient — are commonly used to prevent a disease for which the main treatment is currently extremely difficult to obtain.

All of the Novartis veterinary products mentioned in this article are likely to be unavailable for the foreseeable future.

I have a hunch that the folks at Merial (manufacturer of Heartgard Plus, which competes with Interceptor) and Elanco (manufacturer of Reconcile — known in human medicine as Prozac — which competes with Clomicalm) are enjoying some schadenfreude right now. Nobody else has cause for celebration.

Contact your vet immediately if your pet takes Interceptor, Sentinel, Deramaxx, or Clomicalm. At best, you may need to switch to a different medication. At worst, your pet could be in danger from accidental mismedication.