The Health Ministry on Thursday asked 25 pharmaceutical companies to halt shipments of prescription medicines containing phenacetin for use as an antifebrile drug and pain killer, which it said carries the risk of serious renal damage, bladder cancer and other ailments, when taken over long periods in large doses, ministry officials said.

The move came after the ministry learned that at least one woman, in her 80s, died of renal pelvic carcinoma after taking phenacetin. She took the medicine for about 30 years, they said.

They said total shipments of the drug have increased 40 percent over the past 10 years and received reports that some patients taking the drugs over long periods or in large doses have developed diseases of this kind, the officials said.

They added that the companies in question have accepted the ministry’s request.

The ministry will not ask the companies to recall drugs already shipped, however, as patients will not develop these diseases if they avoid taking the drugs for long periods or in large doses, they said.

The ministry said aspirin and acetaminophen are good substitutes for phenacetin as they pose a far smaller risk of side effects even if used over the long term.

The ministry has long been cautioning against the continuous use of phenacetin-containing drugs but decided to make the request to the drugmakers this time because their sales have been growing sharply and a number of reports of side effects have been received.

The ministry has received a total of 21 reports of side effects of the drug including 12 renal failure cases, the officials said.

Of the 21, they received the last five cases since last fall, they said.

The drugs are available under various brand names by the 25 companies including Nippon Shinyaku Co., Hokuriku Seiyaku Co., Shionogi & Co., Nippon Roche K.K. and Ono Pharmaceutical Co.

Sedes G manufacturered by Shionogi and Saridon tablets and powder by Nippon Roche K.K. have 90 percent of market share, according to the officials.

Over-the-counter drugs under similar names such as Sedes Hi, New Sedes and Saridon A do not contain phenacetin, they said.

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