Watch what you pop into your mouth. Ranitidine, the favourite antacid of workaholics who have little time to grab a bite and must clamp their acid secretions, may be dangerous. The US regulator of drugs has reported that it found a carcinogenic impurity called N-nitrosodimethylanine (NDMA) in it. This has prompted the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) to issue a warning to state drug regulators and domestic pharma companies to test their products for this impurity and to sell the drug only on prescriptions. The drug is popularly known as Zantac worldwide (Zinetac in India), the brand under which it achieved blockbuster status in the US some decades ago. Today, generic versions of it are found in medicine cabinets everywhere.

This is not the first time a widely consumed generic drug has come under fire for deadly impurities. Last year in July, Valsartan, a popular drug for treating blood pressure and heart failure, turned out to contain high levels of carcinogenic impurities. Given the high prevalence of blood pressure and heart-related issues in India, needless to say, this was a big wake-up call for pharma companies, local drug stores and routine consumers of it.

Ranitidine has been available in India over the counter for a long time, and is worth an estimated 688.6 crore in sales. This is only a fraction of the $412.4 million it still pulls in globally, but prices in India tend to be lower—even for generics. That’s a lot of people at risk. The lesson of this episode is clear. Beware the routine popping of chemical pills. In this case, it’s easy to dispense with the drug. The old way to combat acidity works. Don’t skip meals.

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