On Blood Thinners And Rat Poison
C&EN’s cover story this week is about finding replacements for the blood thinner warfarin, something that hasn’t happened in the more than fifty years since the drug went on the market.
Warfarin prevents blood clots from forming and reduces active clots as well. When it works, it’s great for preventing strokes. As a bonus, it’s a dirt cheap pill, costing on the order of a couple of cents a day. But the trouble is that warfarin doesn’t always work well. It is extremely unpredictable in the body. Foods and other drugs affect its activity, as do certain genetic traits.
The last thing you want to do is to take too much or too little warfarin. Too much warfarin could lead to uncontrolled bleeding, something that can be deadly in a place like the brain. And of course too little warfarin won’t be effective at preventing clots. So patients on warfarin must constantly monitor how well their blood is clotting, so their doctor can get their dose just right.
The fact that it’s easy to overdose on warfarin is a pain for doctors and patients. But it comes in pretty handy in warfarin’s other, perhaps less well-known application: rat poison. It seems that messing with rodents’ blood clotting pathways is a very efficient way to off them. My cursory research indicates that we’ve got many rodenticide options, and warfarin isn’t the most common one. I couldn’t find warfarin at three different D.C. hardware stores. But it’s still available online.
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As an aside: medical websites seem to use the name “coumadin”, but the rat poison boxes read “warfarin”. I’d love to know the history behind this name divergence. It could be another instance of name-changing to assuage patient fears. I can certainly understand how a patient would find it disconcerting to see a giant box of their blood thinner in the pest control aisle at Home Depot. Think of how a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer uses essentially the same technology as a magnetic resonance imaging instrument. But the name you see used in the health field drops the “nuclear”.