In prescription and over-the-counter medicines, fillers (also called “inactive ingredients” or “excipients”) are added to the active drug. Fillers provide shape and bulk for tablets and capsules, aid in water absorption (helping the tablet to disintegrate), and serve other purposes as well. Fillers can be derived from any starch source, including corn, potatoes, tapioca and wheat.
On the eve of International Celiac Disease Awareness Day (May 16, 2013), Representatives Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Nita Lowey (D-NY) introduced the Gluten in Medicine Disclosure Act – HR 2003 to the U.S. Congress. The Act will make it easier to identify gluten in drug products.
In addition to active ingredients, medications (prescription and OTC) may contain fillers, coatings and other inactive ingredients that contain gluten or are derived from grains containing gluten. Currently, there is no requirement that gluten-containing grains (wheat, barley and rye) be listed as ingredients, causing people to unknowingly consume gluten when taking their medications. Even a small amount of gluten is enough to cause symptoms, but even asymptomatic consumers may be damaging their intestines if their medications contain gluten.If enacted, the Act would amend the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to require drug labels to contain a parenthetical statement identifying the source of any ingredient constituting or derived from a grain or starch. Whether medication contains wheat starch vs. corn starch is a critical distinction for consumers with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
While HR 2003 sounds simple enough and is supported by all the leading celiac awareness organizations, including CDF, its predecessor failed during the prior legislative session. A quick call to Congressman Ryan’s office confirmed that the current Act is identical to the Gluten in Medicine Identification Act of 2012 (HR 4972) except for the title. HR 4972 failed, despite the 6,200 letters received by congressional offices.
CDF plans on launching another letter writing campaign and will be calling upon our community to participate and enlist the support of our families and friends. Getting bi-partisan support for the bill is critical. CDF strongly recommends developing a relationship with your pharmacist and making sure he or she is aware of your need for 100% gluten-free medication. Read more about the Gluten in Medicine Identification Act here.
For the meantime, and as a courtesy to the gluten-free community, Dr. Steven Plogsted of Nationwide Children’s hospital maintains a website that provides information regarding gluten-free drugs. This site is for informational purposes only and may contain inaccuracies. Dr. Plogsted advises that, “All persons should interpret the information with caution and should seek medical advice when necessary.”
Please note: There may be prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications that are gluten-free and are NOT included in his list, so always check with the manufacturer.
For more direct information or questions, you may contact the company directly.
“800″ Numbers for Pharmaceutical Companies
- Abbott Labs – 1-800-633-9110
- Bayer (Sterling Health) – 1-800-331-4536 & 1-800-332-2056
- Bristol-Meyers Squibb – 1-800-468-7746
- McNeil – 1-800-962-5357
- Proctor and Gamble – 1-800-395-0689
- Merck – 1-800-727-5400
- Pfizer – 800-438-1985
- Salix – 1-866-669-7597
- Eli Lilly – 1-800-545-5979