PLoS One. 2014 Apr 18;9(4):e95353

A tiered analytical approach for investigating poor quality emergency contraceptives

Monge ME, Dwivedi P, Zhou M, Payne M, Harris C, House B, Juggins Y, Cizmarik P, Newton PN, Fernández FM and Jenkins D

Abstract Reproductive health has been deleteriously affected by poor quality medicines. Emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) are an important birth control method that women can use after unprotected coitus for reducing the risk of pregnancy. In response to the detection of poor quality ECPs commercially available in the Peruvian market we developed a tiered multi-platform analytical strategy. In a survey to assess ECP medicine quality in Peru, 7 out of 25 different batches showed inadequate release of levonorgestrel by dissolution testing or improper amounts of active ingredient. One batch was found to contain a wrong active ingredient, with no detectable levonorgestrel. By combining ultrahigh performance liquid chromatography-ion mobility spectrometry-mass spectrometry (UHPLC-IMS-MS) and direct analysis in real time MS (DART-MS) the unknown compound was identified as the antibiotic sulfamethoxazole. Quantitation by UHPLC-triple quadrupole tandem MS (QqQ-MS/MS) indicated that the wrong ingredient was present in the ECP sample at levels which could have significant physiological effects. Further chemical characterization of the poor quality ECP samples included the identification of the excipients by 2D Diffusion-Ordered Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (DOSY 1H NMR) indicating the presence of lactose and magnesium stearate.

Comment: Although this paper will be too technical for the taste of many health workers in the field, the message is important and simple: there are too many low quality emergency contraceptives for sale. A cheaper product of low quality, suddenly becomes very expensive if it does not work. Providers and prescribers must make sure that the products they prescribe or hand out, are approved by a regulatory agency and/or prequalified by WHO! (HMV)