San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Panamanian Officials Investigate Toothpaste

PANAMA CITY – Panama’s Health Ministry has fined a drugstore $25,000 and ordered that it be temporarily closed for selling two brands of toothpaste that may contain a chemical that killed more than 100 people last year.

Vendela S.A., located in the capital, will be closed until the ministry’s pharmacy and drugs division investigates whether the toothpaste and other products sold by the store are “harmful to human health.”

According to the May 11 resolution ordering the fine and closure of the store, the Excel and Mr. Cool brands of toothpaste and other products seized at the establishment had not been registered with health authorities.

The resolution gives Vendela a period of five days to appeal the decision. The director of the pharmacy and drugs division, Eric Conte, recommended at a press conference that people not use or consume medicine, shampoo, cosmetics, soap or any type of food “if they are unsure of its origin and above all should verify that it has been properly registered” with health authorities.

The labels of the two toothpaste brands indicated they contained diethylene glycol, a chemical used in brake fluid and radiator coolant that causes those who swallow it to suffer nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, drastic reduction in the flow of urine, and sometimes kidney failure, paralysis and death.

A Panamanian prosecutor said last month that 100 people died after taking medicines contaminated with the substance; the cases date back to between June and October 2006, when the first deaths from the poisonings occurred (NT,May 4).

It was determined that the medicines were mostly taken by patients with high blood pressure, diabetes and kidney malfunction.


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