Using too much Lindane to treat lice infestations can cause deadly brain or nerve damage, federal health officials warned Friday, urging strict limits on its use.
They said the prescription drug should not be used on babies and “with great caution” on children.
The Food and Drug Administration took new steps to limit how much of the controversial drug people can slather on: Once sold in large bottles, Lindane now is to come only in 1- or 2-ounce packets for one-time use, and doctors are told not to prescribe more.
Lindane is an agricultural insecticide on which the Environmental Protection Agency imposes strong restrictions. Less-potent versions are sold as creams and shampoos to be rubbed into the scalp and skin to treat lice and scabies, a similar parasitic infection.
Because safer treatments exist, the FDA ruled in 1996 that Lindane should be prescribed only to patients not helped by safer alternatives and warned against overuse. Lindane is absorbed through the skin, and slathering on too much, or using it more than once, greatly increases the risk.
While Lindane use has dropped, from 1.8 million prescriptions in 1997 to fewer than 1 million last year, people still misuse the drug, FDA’s Dr. Sandra Kweder said Friday.
Of 17 reported deaths associated with Lindane use, Kweder cited two confirmed since 1996: a child given a too-high dose and an adult who applied Lindane repeatedly.
Typically, someone who still itches has ample Lindane left after the first application and ignores the doctor’s advice to use it only once not realizing that the increased itching could signal that the parasites are dying, Kweder said.