Hay-fever drug taken off sale

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Chemists were clearing their shelves of hay-fever remedies containing the drug terfenadine yesterday following a warning over its safety from the Government's Committee on Safety of Medicines.

The move comes after increasing concern about the drug's effect on the heart in some patients. Twenty people have died while taking terfenadine products, 14 of them from heart-related problems, since it was first marketed in 1982.

In a letter to doctors and pharmacists, Professor Michael Rawlins, chairman of the committee, said that serious adverse reactions continued to be reported despite warnings issued in 1992 and 1994. People taking antibiotics, anti-fungals or who have heart or liver problems may be at risk.

Grapefruit juice is also known to interact with the drug, increasing its uptake by the blood. It was because of the increasing complexity of the precautions needed for its safe use that the committee had recommended terfenadine be made a prescription-only medicine, Professor Rawlins said.

A spokesman from the Department of Health said that by law the switching of a drug to prescription-only status was subject to three months' consultation so terfenadine-containing products would still be available throughout the hay-fever season of May, June and July. Shops were being asked to remove the drug from open sale so customers could be advised directly by the pharmacist.

t The following products contain terfenadine: Aller-Eze Clear, Boots Antihistamine Tablets, Boots Hay Fever Relief Antihistamine Tablets, Boots One-a-Day Antihistamine Tablets, Histafen, Seldane, Terfenor, Terfex, Terfinax, Triludan, and Triludan Forte.