Heparin, a blood thinner produced by Baxter International
Inc. has now been linked to 81 deaths in the United
States and has caused hundreds of severe reactions in patients worldwide.
Senate and House Subcommittees have spent the last several weeks collecting
evidence and hearing testimony from victims, doctors,
and Baxter International representatives on the issue. According
to the FDA and others, it now appears that the deaths were caused by severe
allergic reactions due to intentional contamination of the drug’s active
The controversy over the contaminated material and the
resulting deaths has intensified with news that it was a Chinese company, a
subsidiary of Scientific Protein Laboratories that appears to be the source,
according to the FDA.
Why would someone intentionally contaminate a life saving
drug with a potentially deadly substance? Although still unconfirmed and
unproven, the motive appears to be economic fraud. The contaminant, oversulfated chondroitin sulfate
costs about one hundredth the value of pure Heparin. Janet Woodcock,
director of the FDA, told the New York Times that, “a third of the material
in some batches of the thinner were contaminants… and it does strain ones
credulity to suggest that might have been done accidentally.”
Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport, Maine, unanimously voted to suspend use of the blood thinner near the end of February, and many other hospitals did the same. However, it’s still too early to tell how many people could have been hurt by the contaminant and if Mainers were among them.