I called my allergist to ask about the Zyrtec syrup he had prescribed for my 12-month-old daughter Baby E's allergies, because I had read from several different sources that it contains corn-derived ingredients.
The allergist's nurse called Pfizer, the manufacturer of Zyrtec, and then called me back. She said they assured her that there were no corn or soy ingredients in Zyrtec syrup. However, it didn't seem that she'd checked on the sources of ingredients like glycerin that aren't called corn, but are usually derived from corn, and those like "flavorings" that very well may contain soy.
So I tracked down the 800 number myself and called Pfizer. After being put on hold and transferred numerous times, I finally got to ask my question. I asked if there were any corn- or soy-derived ingredients, specifically pointing out the often-problematic ones like glycerin and flavorings.
The "specialist" who helped me was able to tell me that there were no corn-derived ingredients in the sugar syrup. But he said that they DO NOT KNOW what is in the other ingredients, such as glycerin and flavorings, because they buy those from outside sources who do not disclose such information. It's "proprietary information".
So they don't know what's in their drugs, and they can't or won't find out. Not even for the allergens like soy that are required to be reported in food by the FDA. But medicine isn't food, now, is it? Never mind that we ingest it just like food.
He told me that Pfizer has a disclaimer that they can't guarantee any of their medications are free from any allergen at all. I informed him that it could be a life-and-death matter for highly allergic people like my daughter, and he said "for patients like that we recommend that they be very careful about anything they take, and discuss it with their doctor" to decide whether it's worth the risk or not.
But how can the doctor and patient make an informed decision if the drug company won't tell them whether the drug contains the thing they're allergic to?
All the package inserts say the medication is contraindicated for patients allergic to any of the ingredients. But when the ingredients are vague things like "flavorings" or "glycerin" that could come from any of many different sources, that's not much help. Not at all. They might as well just put "medicine" on the label and not say what's in it.
How in the world can a drug company NOT KNOW what's in the drugs they are making, and not be able or willing to find out? Most of the food companies I've talked to have been more than willing to contact their distributors and ask if there's any corn and/or soy in the products like glycerin and flavorings. The nutritionist at Trader Joe's is even researching what the goats eat that make the milk for the goat milk yogurt, to try to help me figure out why Baby E reacted immediately to it both times we tried it.
Even companies that don't disclose their formulas and consider their ingredients proprietary information have been more than willing to check on whether they contain a specific allergen. For the most part, they seem to actually care about helping us avoid an allergic reaction from consuming their products.
I'd like to write some letters or contact someone about this--it's just not right that a drug company would be unable/unwilling to disclose potential allergens in their products. Especially with a prescription medication intended to treat allergies, when you KNOW a higher-than-normal percentage of allergic individuals are going to be using it.
And then they have a disclaimer so that if someone dies because they didn't disclose an allergen, they hope nobody can do anything about it.
Something is seriously wrong with this system. Even if the information is not provided on the label (which I think it should be), consumers should be able to at lesat make an inquiry to the manufacturer of food and medicine items to get information about whether a food they are allergic to is in the item.