Loss for public health: FDA lags behind the rest of the world, refuses to remove toxic and ineffective lindane from the market

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has, once again, let down the public and failed in its mission to protect public health. In what should have been a fairly easy decision to follow the law and remove a drug from the market that is neither safe nor effective, the FDA today has instead ignored the clear science and denied NRDC’s 2010 petition to ban the dangerous drug lindane. 

As the parent of a young toddler, I haven’t yet had the pleasure of experiencing the panic that happens when your kid comes home with lice. But I have been warned that it is a fairly inevitable part of going to school.  So I’m bracing myself for the itchy head and creepy crawlies.

Whenever that time comes, I know I will be grossed out, but I know I won’t put anything on my son’s head that could cause very serious health problems. Head lice doesn’t lead to serious medical conditions, so why would I hurt my child trying to treat it?

The problem is that with today’s decision, FDA is continuing to allow parents – most of whom are unaware of the dangers – to expose their kids to poisonous shampoo in the desperate attempt to get rid of head lice.

Lindane is the active ingredient in some shampoos and lotions used to treat lice and scabies. It has a lot of annoying side effects like skin irritation and numbness – and some very serious ones like seizures and death. What’s really scary is that seizures and death happened even when it was used as directed! And the effects are worst in young children and the elderly. In fact, FDA has issued a warning that lindane could cause serious problems in children under 110 pounds - but FDA won't stop anyone from using it on children.

The toxicity of lindane is not news. Lindane was used as a pesticide in agriculture, but the Environmental Protection Agency banned those uses in 2006 because of its toxicity. Most countries (including the United States) have stopped producing lindane, and more than 160 nations have agreed to designate lindane for elimination under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. Lindane has also been banned in California and Michigan is working on a ban, too.

What also isn’t news is that lindane isn't even effective anymore against lice. Lice and scabies have become resistant to lindane. In a study comparing various lice treatments, lindane placed last in a test of efficacy among five products.

What is news is that despite the fact that it is toxic and is ineffective, the FDA continues to allow lindane to be used to treat lice and scabies. FDA’s denial of NRDC’s petition is a direct violation of the very law that FDA is meant to uphold. This is an unnecessary product that doesn’t need to be used anymore.

For panicked parents dealing with head lice, there is in fact a much safer and more effective way to deal with head lice. Check out our factsheet here for more details.

About the Authors

Mae Wu

Senior Attorney, Health program

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