Fake Colgate toothpaste in Panama contains harmful DEG

Counterfeit toothpaste discovered in Panama contains diethylene glycol (DEG), an ingredient responsible for poisoning hundreds of people in the country a few years ago.

The fake toothpaste, found in stores in Panama City, David and Santiago, was a counterfeit of the Colgate-Palmolive’s Triple Action brand and has an expiry date of April 2022 with the lot number L9099CT1034, according to Panama’s Ministry of Health (MINSA).

Panama’s director of Farmacias y Drogas, Elvia Lau, said that the toothpastes were being sold by street vendors at lower prices than those offered in supermarkets. MINSA first detected the counterfeits in the market last year.

Cough syrup laced with DEG - a colourless and odourless liquid with a sweet taste – caused acute renal failure in at least 500 people in Panama in 2006, killing 97 people, according to Ministry figures.

Other mass poisonings linked to DEG have been seen in the US in 1937 (105 deaths), Haiti in 1995-1996 (85 deaths) and India in 1998 (33 deaths), with the latter two cases also involving medicinal syrup products. In most cases DEG is a contaminant or adulterant in glycerin or propylene glycol, which are used as pharmaceutical inactive ingredients or ‘excipients’.

In 2009, another incident in Bangladesh involving paracetamol (acetaminophen) syrup contaminated with DEG claimed at least 26 infant lives. Bangladesh was also affected by one of the worst cases on record, with 339 deaths attributed to paracetamol syrup contaminated with DEG from propylene glycol in 1990-92.

And in 2008, 84 children in Nigeria died after consuming a teething formula product in which glycerin was contaminated with DEG.

Colgate-Palmolive has been plagued by counterfeiting for several years, and in 2013 was sued by a US woman who claimed using a counterfeit of one of its toothpastes damaged her health.

The judge in the case ruled that the company could not be held liable for the actions of a counterfeiter, although she was eventually awarded $95,000 in a settlement involving the importer and retailer of the fake toothpaste.

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