Excedrin shortage giving migraine sufferers real headache; return expected October

Finally some relief is on the way: Novartis announced it would start shipping Excedrin Migraine to stores the week of October 15. You can sign up online to be notified when it's back in your area. Photo: Excedrin/Facebook

SAN DIEGO, October 11, 2012 – There are an estimated 36 million people in the United States who suffer from migraine headaches. I’m one of them.

Migraine headaches are estimated to cost between $5 and $17 billion a year in lost productivity in the U.S. They are notoriously tricky to treat. So when you find something that works, it’s a Godsend. For many migraine suffers including me, that magic bullet is the over the counter painkiller Excedrin.

Excedrin users found themselves with a brand new headache when a Food and Drug Administration report caused Novartis, the company that manufactures Excedrin, to take it off the market.

Novartis announced a massive product recall and voluntarily stopped production at its Lincoln. Nebraska manufacturing plant in January as a result of numerous repeat violations and deficiencies found by the FDA in the plant’s operations and quality control systems.  Packaging was being mixed-up; stray tablets from other types of prescription drugs were getting into Excedrin bottles and other Novartis products; pills were broken or chipped.

Excedrin’s fans are counting the days until its return to the shelves. It starts shipping the week of October 15. Photo: AP/Mark Lennihan

Not everyone heard about the recall in time to stock up. We were left with our dwindling supply of Excedrin, hoping to get through perhaps a few months until Novartis started manufacturing it again.

This created a booming black market for Excedrin. Doctors insist generic versions work exactly the same way. Try telling that to some of the 289,000 people who “like” Excedrin’s Facebook page, where they post their pleas to Novartis that only the real thing will do, and to please hurry up and bring Excedrin back.

The Excedrin recall created a black market on websites like eBay. Desperate headache sufferers were willing to pay to get relief. Photo: eBay

Or to people willing to pay whatever it takes to get their hands on the one product they swear by as their stash ran out. On eBay, one bottle of Excedrin Extra Strength from Japan is listed at $51.01. You could buy the same for just under ten dollars before the recall. Another bottle is listed for an astonishing $125.00. On Amazon.com the $74.99 price tag for a bottle of 100 Excedrin Tension Headache 100 caplets is a bargain.

But take it from me, when you’re hurting from a migraine and so miserable that shooting yourself in the head seems like a good idea, $125 seems like a bargain.

Generic versions are available in every store for less than two dollars, and many people are making do with these versions. But all say they will be glad to see Excedrin back on the shelves.

On one website of many where Excedrin fans are sharing whatever news they can about sources and alternatives, “Kathy314” who identified herself as a registered nurse wrote, “The difference in generics & brands are the fillers used in each. Everyone’s body absorbs these differently, so if you don’t absorb the fillers well then you won’t absorb the medication well. I am a nurse and got that info from a good pharmacist. Makes total sense to me. I thought I was CRAZY! But I am not crazy or addicted! Shame on those who think otherwise! I have a long history of migraines & have prescription meds but Excedrin works great if I catch it early…. NO other OTC works!”

Why does Excedrin seem to work so well? Excedrin contains both aspirin and acetaminophen, also known as Tylenol. The catalyst ingredient that seems to make it work: caffeine.

Caffeine is a common ingredient in many prescription and over-the-counter headache and pain relief medications. According to Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD writing on WebMD.com, caffeine additives make pain relievers 40 percent more effective in treating headaches. Caffeine also helps the body absorb headache drugs more quickly, bringing faster relief. By adding caffeine and enabling an individual to take less medication, you can reduce the risk for potential side effects and possible drug addiction.

Rumors started circulating Excedrin would be back in April. Then July. It turned out to take Novartis several months longer than it originally hoped to address all of the issues listed in the FDA’s 23-page long inspection report. Meanwhile the company has lost $500 million in sales of over-the-counter drug products including Excedrin the first half of 2012.

Finally some relief is on the way: Novartis has restarted production on a product-by-product basis, and Excedrin will be one of the first items back on the shelves. In a statement, Novartis announced it would start shipping Excedrin Migraine to stores the week of October 15. The Extra Strength version won’t return to store shelves until early 2013.

You can sign up on the Excedrin.com website to receive email or text message notice when the product returns to shelves in your area.

Migraine headaches are estimated to cause between $5 and $17 billion every year in lost productivity in the United States.

In the meantime, people are rationing out their last few doses, or trying to make do with the generics. Another substitute is one aspirin, one Tylenol, and a caffeine chaser. Some people say coffee works best as the chaser. I swear by a Mountain Dew. You can also take 150 mg of caffeine in tablet form.

I have exactly two doses left and hope I’ll make it until the drugs hit the shelves. But not every store will be resupplied on the first day, so users will have to be patient.

The lesson to be learned is neatly stated by our RN friend “Kathy 314” who wrote online that she went and cleared out her local Kroger store of Excedrin the minute she heard about the recall. “Let this be a lesson. If you really need something, keep a year’s supply of it. Never depend on the government or others to fix things for you… Here’s a hint. Stock up on those caffeinated tablets. I predict that one day they will be banned or go behind the counter. Caffeine is a smooth muscle relaxant as well as having the ability to keep you alert during the zombie apocalypse. You don’t want who’s on watch getting drowsy.”

Excedrin helps fight the zombie apocalypse? This stuff really does have super powers. 

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. Read more Media Migraine in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.


Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities at WashingtonTimes.com” when quoting from or linking to this story.   


Copyright © 2012 by Falcon Valley Group

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Gayle Falkenthal

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, MS, APR, is President of the Falcon Valley Group, a San Diego based communications consulting firm. Falkenthal is a veteran award winning broadcast and print journalist, editor, producer, talk host and commentator. She is an instructor at National University in San Diego, and previously taught in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University.


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