Over-the-counter antacids have now joined toilet paper and disinfecting wipes to become hard-to-find products amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The reason? Americans are stressed out — about increasing cases of COVID, about their jobs, about their children’s remote learning, about the economy. And it’s giving them heartburn, so much so the demand for over-the-counter acid reducers has skyrocketed, according to the New York Times.
However, there are other reasons as well. One is due to a surge in sales of antacids after preliminary studies suggested the heartburn medicines may reduce symptoms of COVID-19. Another hit when it was reported that famotidine (known by the brand name Pepcid) was among the drugs President Trump was treated with after he tested positive for the coronavirus.
“I think part of it is the stress of everything going on in the world,” Dr. Lauren Bleich, a gastroenterologist in Acton, Massachusetts, told the Times. She said she had seen a 25% increase in patients reporting heartburn and similar symptoms. “We had a lot of people with upset stomachs, heartburn and indigestion around the election,” she added.
Plus, on April 1, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pulled the heartburn medicine Zantac and all other over-the-counter and prescription medications containing its active ingredient, ranitidine, after testing revealed that the drug contained a probable cancer-causing impurity called NDMA. The agency said that the impurity in Zantac could increase to unsafe levels under normal storage conditions such as if the medicine was exposed to hotter temperatures or the longer it was from its manufacturing date.
How does Zantac work?
Both ranitidine and famotidine belong to a group of medicines known as histamine H2 receptor antagonists, or H2-blockers. The medicines work by decreasing the amount of acid produced by the stomach. To date, the FDA testing has not found NDMA in famotidine, but it has in nizatidine, another H2-blocker sold under the brand name Axid.
NDMA has been found in laboratory research to cause tumor growth and may be linked to a variety of cancers including bladder, esophageal, colorectal, stomach, and pancreatic cancer.
Manufacturers of over-the-counter antacids said they are working hard to meet the demand so that consumers can get the relief they need during these stressful times.