Unapproved Prescription Cough, Cold, and Allergy Drug Products: Recent US Food and Drug Administration Regulatory Action on Unapproved Cough, Cold, and Allergy Medications

Chest. 2011 Aug;140(2):295-300. doi: 10.1378/chest.11-0981.


The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) drug approval and over-the-counter drug monograph processes play an essential role in ensuring that all drugs are both safe and effective for their intended uses. Manufacturers of drugs that lack required approval have not provided the FDA with evidence demonstrating that their products are safe and effective. Some of these prescription drugs have been marketed for many years and have remained on the market despite changes to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which requires approval for safety and efficacy purposes. Many health-care providers may be unaware that unapproved drugs exist because the product labels of these drugs do not disclose that they lack FDA approval. The FDA recently took action against unapproved prescription oral cough, cold, and allergy drug products because of concerns about the potential risks of these products, particularly some extended-release formulations that have not been reviewed for quality. There is a potential for medication errors because product names and labeling have not been reviewed for potential confusion, with some products inappropriately labeled for use in children aged ≤ 2 years. FDA-approved prescription drugs or drugs appropriately marketed as over the counter remain available for treatment of cough, cold, and allergy symptoms. Such products are of known efficacy, safety, identity, quality, and purity. Removing unapproved drugs from the marketplace and encouraging manufacturers of unapproved products to seek FDA review and approval is a top priority for the FDA. Since the initiation of the Unapproved Drugs Initiative in 2006, the FDA has removed ~1,500 unapproved products from the market and has worked with firms to bring other unapproved drugs into the approval process. The FDA remains committed to its mission of ensuring that safe and effective drugs are available to American consumers.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antitussive Agents / adverse effects
  • Antitussive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Child, Preschool
  • Common Cold / drug therapy*
  • Cough / drug therapy*
  • Delayed-Action Preparations
  • Drug Approval*
  • Expectorants / adverse effects
  • Expectorants / therapeutic use
  • Histamine Antagonists / adverse effects
  • Histamine Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / drug therapy*
  • Infant
  • Nasal Decongestants / adverse effects
  • Nasal Decongestants / therapeutic use
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Safety-Based Drug Withdrawals*
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration*


  • Antitussive Agents
  • Delayed-Action Preparations
  • Expectorants
  • Histamine Antagonists
  • Nasal Decongestants
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • Prescription Drugs