Sunday, March 16, 2008

Heparin: A Common Drug That's Getting a Lot of Attention

Heparin, a blood thinner, is one of the most common drugs used in health care today. Tonight's "60 Minutes" led off with the story of actor Dennis Quaid and his wife, who saw their twins almost die from a ten-thousand fold overdose of Heparin.

To be technical, Heparin doesn't really "thin" the blood but prevents it from coagulating (clotting). The Quaid twins were supposed to be treated with Hep-Lock, a drug used to flush out catheters and other medical equipment, and instead were given Heparin... and the adult-strength Heparin is 10,000 times stronger than Hep-Lock.

Heparin, whose main manufacturer is U.S. drug maker Baxter International, has also been the subject of a recall by U.S. authorities due to a number of deaths it is believed resulted from contamination at the Chinese source of one of the main ingredients of Heparin. The Quaid situation is another Heparin-related headache for Baxter, notes an article in the Wall Street Journal. The problem is said to have results in 19 deaths in the U.S.

The Journal has previously run articles about how the main ingredient in Heparin is obtained from the intestines of pigs, and it has noted unsanitary conditions at at least one facility in China.

Medline Plus, a Web site from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, has a good layman's article on Heparin, how and why it's used, and the recent problems with the drug. has good question and answer page about Heparin.

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