The decision of Health Canada to recall drugs over concerns the raw material contained a cancer causing impurity has left patients to question what they were potentially exposed to the carcinogenic.

In July 2018, the agency ordered a recall of several variations of valsartan, a drug that had been regularly prescribed to address high blood pressure and prevent heart attacks and strokes.

On March 9, 2019, manufacturers voluntarily expanded the recall to include a number of products containing losartan, a medication in the same family as valsartan, over the potential presence of a NDMA, a nitrosamine impurity that is consider a potential human carcinogen.

In a statement issued at the time of the losartan recall announcement, Health Canada officials said ‘there is no immediate risk to patients taking these medications since the potential risk of cancer is with long-term exposure to the impurities. Patients should not stop taking their medication unless advised to do so by their healthcare provider’.

Not all drugs containing valsartan or losartan have been recalled.

“The most important thing to do is set up an appointment with your family doctor, your pharmacist. your nurse practitioner, whoever prescribed you that agent, and then find out is the specific agent that you're on affected by the recall because, again, not all valsartan or all losartan agents are affected,” explained Dr. Doreen Rabi of the University of Calgary’s O’Brien Institute for Public Health. “If you find out you are on an affected agent, take a deep breath, and talk about a transition plan to a safer agent.”

“What’s important for many patients to remember is that there are several safe agents out there and safe alternatives.”

Calgarian Ivan Valic says his doctor ordered him to stop taking valsartan immediately after the recall was announced. “I can’t explain to you how angry and disappointed (I am),” said the 63-year-old. “I used it for more than two years.”

“How would you feel if someone told you they had been feeding you with poison for two years?”

Valic says he has contacted the federal and provincial government as he continues to look for an explanation regarding the initial approval of the drug.

A national class action litigation was filed in 2018 on behalf of all Canadians who had taken valsartan but Valic says he’s been informed he’s not eligible to join as it is only for patients later diagnosed with cancer.

With files from CTV’s Ina Sidhu