With its promise of taming the ravages of stomach acid, ranitidine—best known under the brand name Zantac—was counted among the agents of pharmaceutical salvation, the enduring and reliable drugs that treat intractable diseases and make daily life more tolerable. In 1987, Zantac became the most-prescribed drug in the world.
But last week ranitidine was essentially erased from the US market. The US Food and Drug Administration asked manufacturers to withdraw ranitidine products, both in prescription and over-the-counter forms, because of an “impurity” in the pharmaceutical compound. Over time or in the presence of heat, ranitidine can form unacceptable levels of a probable carcinogen known as N-nitrosodimethylamine, or NDMA, the agency determined.
“We didn’t observe unacceptable levels of NDMA in many of the samples that we tested. However, since we don’t know how or for how long the product might have been stored, we decided that it should not be