Ipecac Not Effective at Treating Accidental Poisonings

Ipecac Fast Facts

  • Ipecac is an over-the-counter syrup used to induce vomiting in those who have swallowed a poisonous substance.

  • The active ingredient in ipecac, emetine, comes from a Brazilian plant.

  • First became available in 1965. Reached the peak of its popularity during the 1980s.

  • Never give ipecac to a child unless instructed to do so by a physician or a trained staff member at the American Association of Poison Control Centers Hotline, 1-800-222-1222.
  • Once a staple of the family medicine chest, ipecac is falling out of favor with doctors and may soon be stripped of its over-the-counter status. The syrup, which induces vomiting, has been used for decades to flush out the stomachs of children who had swallowed poisonous substances – from toothpaste to oven cleaner.  But recent research has suggested that ipecac is not entirely effective at treating accidental poisonings – and it may be more harmful than helpful.

    “The drug is clearly effective at inducing vomiting, but controlled studies have shown that ipecac does not empty the stomach of all poisonous content,” says Charles Ganley, M.D., director of the Division of Over-the-Counter Drug Products for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “Simply put, the benefits are not there to justify its use.”

    Besides its questionable effectiveness, ipecac is foul-tasting and can cause a person to vomit for several hours. The drug has also been abused in recent years by those with eating disorders, often bulimia, as a means to lose weight.  Citing these and many other factors, the FDA voted recently to strip ipecac of its over-the-counter status.  If the decision is upheld, ipecac could become a prescription-only drug as soon as December.    

    If your child has swallowed something toxic, call the American Association of Poison Control Centers Hotline at (800) 222-1222. Professionals there will help you determine the severity of the case. Most important, remain calm and refrain from giving your child ipecac or other home remedies.  They seldom work and oftentimes make the situation worse. Call 911 immediately if your child collapses or stops breathing.

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