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The case of the tainted capsules.

The case of the tainted capsules In February in the state of Washington, two people died suddenly and another became seriously ill after taking a popular cold remedy. The medication, Sudafed 12-hour time-release capsules, proved to have been tainted with cyanide. Burroughs Wellcome, the manufacturer, announced a nationwide recall of Sudafed capsules and set up toll-free numbers for wholesalers and for the public. A similar tragedy occurred a few years ago with Tylenol, and the methods for handling such problems have become almost standard.

Some drug-industry critics have called for banning all capsules because they are easily tampered with, and the Food and Drug Administration has strongly suggested that drug companies look for other ways besides capsules to formulate their products. Nevertheless, the FDA does point out that the tainted capsules were poorly disguised:

* The foil backing on the blister packs had been cut.

* The tainted capsules contained yellow powder instead of white beads.

* They had no markings, whereas all bona fide capsules are labeled "Sudafed" and carry the manufacturer's logo.

* They lacked the usual blue safety seal that holds the real capsules together.

None of this is grounds for blaming the victims, and the FDA may indeed need to upgrade its packaging regulations. But it should alert you to take a lesson from the famous detective Hercule Poirot when you go into a drugstore or supermarket. Be "tamper-wise" with packaged foods as well as drugs. Inspect what you buy. If the package looks battered, opened, slit, torn, or unsealed, don't buy it. Of course, such damage does not necessarily indicate the product has been poisoned--probably only mishandled in shipping. If you do think a package has been tampered with, show it to the manager. And when you take medication, don't do so absent-mindedly. Look at the capsule or pill. Is it in the old familiar form with the old familiar markings? Does it look exactly like what's in the rest of the package? If not, don't use it. Truth, as Poirot knew so well, resides in the details.

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Title Annotation:cyanide-tainted Sudafed; how to be alert to product tampering
Publication:The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter
Date:May 1, 1991
Previous Article:Why call it a disease when it's not?
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