Sodium nitrite has one licensed indication: as an antidote to cyanide poisoning. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) and National Poisons Information Service (NPIS) guideline recommends that it should be “immediately available in the emergency department”. Sodium nitrite can cause significant side effects and is categorised as ‘highly toxic’.
Historically, sodium nitrite 30mg/ml has been an unlicensed product supplied in ampoules by ‘Specials’ manufacturers. However a licensed product, supplied as a vial, has been available since 2016. The National Reporting and Learning System (NRLS) identified two incidents where unlicensed sodium nitrite was inadvertently administered to premature babies instead of sodium bicarbonate 4.2%: one very premature baby died soon after this incident occurred and the other died after a period of neonatal intensive care.
Hospitals have been given until 6 November to physically check all wards for the wrong drug and to destroy any unlicensed sodium nitrite supplies. This alert is an action for all acute trusts (children and adult).