Common Inactive Ingredients in Prescription Drugs

Common Inactive Ingredients in Prescription Drugs - Compounding Pharmacy Of America

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

If you regularly take medication, you may be ingesting more than just what your doctor prescribed. Many medications contain the pain reliever acetaminophen, a substance that even in low doses can cause liver damage. Prescription drugs also contain a wide range of fillers, artificial flavors, coatings and other compounds that aren’t good for your health.

The Compounding Pharmacy of America provides medications without all of the extra ingredients. Here’s what you need to know about what you might be taking.

Inactive Ingredients Aren’t Innocuous

assorted pillsPills, liquid medications, inhalants and suppositories have active ingredients that target symptoms and underlying conditions. They also have added substances called excipients that make pills more substantial, sweeten syrups to cover the medication’s taste or help the drug spread throughout your system. Some of these substances are toxic, which is especially concerning if you take medication every day.

Pharmaceutical companies say the harmful substances in medication are in such small quantities they don’t cause damage, but they cause reactions in new patients every day. Pharmacists often classify excipients as proteins, alcohol/ethanol or sweeteners.

Click on any of the three following options to learn more about that additive (or group of additives):

Aspartame and Saccharine

Pharmaceutical companies add artificial sweeteners to drugs to make them taste better. Some individuals can’t swallow pills or prefer to take them in liquid form.

Aspartame is a neurotoxin and carcinogen. Many people who ingest aspartame report headaches, with some patients saying it triggers migraines.

Some reports link aspartame to:

    • Panic attacks
    • Mood changes

    • Dizziness
    • Nausea

  • Memory impairment

Drug labels don’t always list aspartame as an ingredient, but if it is present, the manufacturer will often notify patients that it contains phenylalanine.

Artificial Sweetener

Johnson and Johnson, Glaxo Pharmaceuticals, Equate and other major labs use it in prescription drugs. Aspartame is an ingredient in antibiotics like chewable Amoxicillin and Penicillin oral suspension. It also comes in many over the counter medications, such as Singulair, Pepcid and Zantac.

Many oral medications also contain saccharine. For years, manufacturers had to print a warning on saccharine products stating it might be hazardous. This sweetener has no nutritional value and cannot be digested.

Many people are allergic to the protein found in eggs. Some vaccines, anesthetics, antidepressants and other medications contain albumin made from eggs, such as:

an injectable osteoarthritis treatment

a vaccine that can cause anaphylactic reactions


a flu vaccine that can cause a severe allergic reaction

Alcohol or Ethanol
Ethyl alcohol
Alcohol is a solvent in many liquid medications. It can cause harmful interactions with other medications that lead to:

  • Nausea
  • Blood pressure changes
  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness

Sometimes patients don’t realize what they’re taking and drink additional alcohol with their prescription, increasing their risk of liver damage, stomach bleeding and heart attack.

Other Common Inactive Ingredients in Prescription and OTC Drugs

There’s a staggering list of inactive ingredients the FDA approves to put in medication. Here are just a few of the ones you need to know about.

Aluminum oxide

Aluminum Oxide

is a white powder in medications like acetaminophen, OxyContin and Viagra. The FDA doesn’t classify it as a carcinogen, but workers continually exposed to dust containing aluminum oxide have suffered extreme pulmonary reactions such as emphysema and fibrosis. Short-term exposure causes breathing difficulties and eye irritation. Long-term exposure impacts the brain and nerves.



is a flammable liquid that has no color. Tiny amounts occur naturally in urine.
Pharmaceutical companies use it as a solvent.
It is one of the primary ingredients in nail polish remover.

Acetone can be found in:

  • Allegra-D 24 Hour 180 mg
  • Many forms of omeprazole
  • Tramadol hydrochlorid



is a flavoring, preservative and suspension agent for cosmetics and medications.

Parabens mimic estrogen in the body. Studies have found parabens in breast tumors.

Extra-strength Tylenol and Benadryl allergy “kapgels” contain butylparaben.

Hydrochloric acid

Hydrochloric Acid

is a clear solution created by mixing hydrogen chloride and water. It is highly irritating and corrosive to the eyes, skin and mucous membranes. Many forms of the antidepressant Budeprion contain hydrochloric acid.


Sugar from milk helps pharmaceutical companies compress tablets.

People who are lactose intolerant may not be able to digest lactose, and those who are allergic will likely have a reaction.

Examples of prescriptions containing lactose include:

    • Viagra
    • Xanax
    • Lorazepam



A Better Pill to Swallow

It’s possible to get your prescription meds without inactive ingredients and harmful additives. The Compounding Pharmacy of America doesn’t fill your prescription with premade formulas.

We custom make medications for each patient, allowing us to omit ingredients that are harmful to your health.

Our compounding pharmacy can adjust the strength, flavor, ingredients
and/or delivery method, one patient at a time.

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About Matt Poteet, Pharm.D.

Chief Operating Officer, The Compounding Pharmacy of America Matthew Poteet, Pharm.D. graduated with Honors from Lee University with a Bachelors of Science in Biological Science. After his undergraduate training, he completed the Doctor of Pharmacy program at Mercer University Southern School of Pharmacy, graduating in 2004. Dr. Poteet has spent much of his pharmacy career on staff at two of the most prestigious academic teaching hospitals in the Southeast; Emory University in Atlanta and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. At these institutions he received extensive experience and training in sterile products compounding. He returned home to East Tennessee in 2010, where he has held the position of Pharmacy Director at two sterile products pharmacies in Knoxville. Matthew lives in Knoxville with his wife, Chris. Dr. Poteet is Tennessee’s first Board Certified Anti-Aging Pharmacist by the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. Read More About Matthew Poteet, PharmD