The Food and Drug Administration yesterday warned consumers who ordered pills for depression, anxiety and insomnia over the Internet that they may have received an antipsychotic drug instead.
Haloperidol, a medicine for schizophrenia, was substituted for Sanofi-Aventis SA's Ambien, Pfizer Inc.'s Xanax, Forest Laboratories Inc.'s Lexapro, and Wyeth's Ativan, the FDA said.
Ambien is a sleeping pill. Xanax and Ativan are anti- anxiety treatments. Lexapro is used to treat depression.
Five people reported receiving the wrong drug, and three had to go to an emergency room for treatment, Ilisa Bernstein, the FDA's director of pharmacy affairs, said. Symptoms included difficulty breathing, muscle spasms and muscle stiffness.
The origin of the tablets is unknown, although the packages were postmarked in Greece, the FDA said. The tablets are being analyzed.
Haloperidol, invented in 1958, appears on the World Health Organization's list of essential medicines. In addition to treating schizophrenia, the drug is used to control symptoms of Tourette's disorder and behavioral and hyperactive conditions in children.
Johnson & Johnson, which makes the schizophrenia drug under the brand name Haldol, was contacted by consumers and notified the FDA about the switched medicine, according to Bernstein.
"We would like the public's help to track down the source," Bernstein said. Several of the people who received the wrong drug identified Web sites they had used.
Identifying the businesses behind the sites is "difficult because of the deceptive practices of many commercial outlets on the Internet," the FDA said in a statement.
The agency put photos of the mislabeled pills and their packaging on its Web site (www.fda.gov) and directed consumers to a guide to buying medication over the Internet.