WASHINGTON (AFP) – Fake drugs with names that resemble kids' antibiotics are being sold in Texas pharmacies, mainly to Spanish speakers, and have caused several hospitalizations, according to US officials.
The US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to consumers urging them not to use the "illegal products," after the Texas state health department said they had been linked to several hospitalizations.
"The FDA is warning consumers not to use products marketed as dietary supplements that also claim to be antimicrobial (antibiotic, antifungal or antiviral) drugs," the federal regulatory agency said.
"These illegal products are falsely promoted with claims to treat illnesses such as upper respiratory infections, sinusitis, pneumonia, bronchitis and the common cold," it added.
"These products may or may not contain antimicrobials, and their use could delay treatment for serious illnesses."
The products carry labels that are similar to drugs sold in Mexico and "are marketed specifically to the Hispanic community."
The over-the-counter products have made their way into pharmacies statewide, said the Texas Department of State Health Services.
"DSHS officials are concerned that people taking the products believe they will provide the beneficial health effects of an antibiotic drug," said a statement from the Texas health department.
"The products do not appear to have any active drug ingredients and are not approved to treat medical conditions."
They come in syrup, ointment, capsule and drinkable forms, and have names like Amoxilina, Pentrexcilina, Ampitrexyl, Citricillin, Amoximiel and Pentreximil.
Officials learned of the situation after a hospital in Austin, Texas reported treating "several patients whose parents mistakenly believed they had been treating their children with an antibiotic," it said.
Health authorities say illness and infections can get worse if antibiotics are needed but delayed, and urge consumers to seek a doctor's help if they are sick and think they need drug treatment.
"The maker of these products has no scruples and is preying upon parents of children to make a quick buck," said Marv Shepard, head of the Partnership for Safe Medicines, a consumer group that is seeking to publicize the problem.
"They use deception and jeopardize the health of children; this type of fraudulent marketing is unacceptable and despicable."
Texas's health department, which first issued its statement in late April, said it is "working with other agencies, including the US Food and Drug Administration, to investigate product origin, distribution, labeling and advertising."
Stores are being urged to remove the products from their shelves.