When a bottle of over-the-counter headache pills cost more than an iPod Nano, it can only mean one thing: a recall is still in effect. Since Excedrin products were taken off store shelves in January, prices for what's left have skyrocketed: a bottle of 50 Excedrin Migraine tablets on Amazon.com is $169.99.
Brand-loyal followers are desperate to find their favorite over-the-counter medications. To recap the recall, Swiss drug manufacturer Novartis withdrew some bottles of Excedrin, Bufferin, Gas-X, and NoDoz. USA Today reported at the time that an internal review found some pills were broken and chipped, and unreliable packaging could have resulted in a pill mixup.
Unknowingly mixing pills, said the Food and Drug Administration, could cause people to take too much or too little of a medication, or ingest something they didn’t mean to. Doing that could result in an overdose, an unintended drug interaction, or an allergic reaction. The drug company said it wasn’t aware of any adverse incidents related to the recall.
That means hardcore users are being forced to switch brands, go generic, or pay astronomical prices for the remaining bottles.
A story in the Arizona Republic reporting on the recall’s aftermath quoted trade magazine editor Michelle Tennis on her experience with generic drugs.
“Yesterday, for the first time, it didn’t help,” she said, adding that relief came only after taking four generic pills. “With the Excedrin, one pill took care of everything.”
The Huffington Post recently published part of a statement from Novartis saying the company is “working hard to return products to store shelves as soon as possible. Novartis Consumer Health will restart production on a line-by-line, product-by-product basis to ensure control and adherence to our high standard of quality and expects to begin shipments of a limited portfolio of products in the second half of the year.”
Encouraging news, but perhaps a little too vague for diehard product fans frantic about getting their brands back.
Excedrin Migraine lovers might be the most despondent consumers. While some who suffer from migraines or chronic headaches have found pain relief in generics that contain the same combination of caffeine, aspirin, and acetaminophen as Excedrin, others aren’t convinced anything else but their beloved brand name will do the trick.
“Nothing comes close to helping me with my migraines like Excedrin, not even prescription meds!,” read one comment on a message board. “Now, that's it's been on recall I've been suffering terribly and this company appears to have no answers as to when this will be back on the shelves. I could just scream.”
This anxiety could be shining a light on rebound headaches (also known as medication overuse headaches), which occur when people become dependent on a medication.
“When the levels of the medication falls, the headache returns and people become quite reliant on the it to keep them out of the headache,” says Dr. Andrew Charles, professor of neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and director of UCLA’s Headache Research and Treatment Program. In some cases people can become psychologically dependent as well.
Charles reassures Excedrin Migraine users that generics offer the same benefits, as much as diehards might swear that the brand name has some kind of special ingredient or formulation that makes it different.
“There’s nothing about the Excedrin Migraine preparation that should distinguish it from the same combination of the ingredients,” he says.
The good news in the recall, Charles says, is that it may be the catalyst that brings closeted rebound headache sufferers to finally get help.
Treatment is available, he adds, via prescription and nonprescription medications, that can help migraine sufferers’ pain and break the headache cycle. Making a few lifestyle changes may be beneficial as well, since factors such as hunger and exercise can impact migraines.
Even going cold turkey might help some break the OTC habit. “If they’re able to get through the withdrawal period, they may end up doing better in the long run,” Charles says. “It’s ironic that something so acutely helpful could be making their condition worse.”
What are your headache remedies? Tell us in the comments.