Kevin E. Schmidt

I’m down to my last Excedrin and I’m not happy about it.

I have relied on Excedrin since college. It’s the only thing that cures my headaches, and it’s what got my knees through Europe. My dependence is so fierce that I am never without it. In addition to the bottle in our kitchen, I carry a bottle in my purse.

Now the kitchen bottle is empty and the container in my purse holds only one pill along with a DO NOT EAT cylinder of silica gel.

I tried to restock several weeks ago, but when I approached the counter where the Excedrin is supposed to be, there was a different brand in its place. Some stranger. I circled the counter twice. No Excedrin.

The pharmacist told me Excedrin had been recalled in January, resulting in a national news story that I obviously missed. I was stunned. To me, recalling Excedrin is like recalling apples or meat. (Well, not meat). It is a staple of my life.

I have since learned that the only place in the country where Excedrin is made is Lincoln, Neb., and the plant’s owner, Novartis Consumer Health, shut down production after inspections and scathing reviews by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA.

The plant makes and packages several kinds of drugs, both over-the-counter and prescription, and there was concern that when the lines were switched out, proper “line clearing” did not occur. Because of that, stray tablets of medicines — including some strong opiates — could have found their way into bottles filled with something else.

According to the FDA, hundreds of complaints about this problem date to 2009 and the company failed to investigate them. To emphasize the gravity of this situation, some portions of the FDA report are written in capital letters with a bold font.

The recall covers all types of Excedrin — Extra Strength, Migraine and Sinus — as well as Bufferin, NoDoz and Gas-X Prevention. The company also stopped selling animal health medications such as Interceptor and Sentinel treatments for heartworm.* One can imagine the financial loss this has meant.

Pharmacists at the Hy-Vee Food Stores and CVS where I shop both said they have received “a lot” of inquiries from customers about the missing brands and that they suggest alternatives when questioned.

Each tablet of my Extra Strength Excedrin, for example, contains 250 milligrams of acetaminophen (the ingredient in Tylenol), 250 milligrams of aspirin (NSAID) and 65 milligrams of caffeine.

There are other pain-relief brands that contain the exact same ingredients, so they should work the same. Examine the label. (And if you’re like me, bring your reading glasses to the store.) I have purchased one of these alternative products, labeled for use on migraines, and am hoping for the best.

Meanwhile, the company that makes Excedrin estimates it “will begin to resume OTC (over-the-counter) shipments from our Lincoln facility by mid-year,” according to a written statement from representative Julie Masow.

Matt Olberding, a reporter for the Lincoln Journal Star (a fellow Lee Enterprises newspaper) who has been following the story, said the plant fired its manager and some other personnel and has hired numerous quality-assurance employees to make sure everything is in order before production and shipment resumes.

Consumers who have the recalled products can phone 888-477-2403 (7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Central time Monday-Saturday) or send an email to otc.recall@novartis.com.

I’m going to end this column now because thinking about this seriously does give me a headache. And I am not returning my recalled tablet.


Dr. Scott Sandeman, who writes the Paper Trained column for the Quad-City Times, said his veterinary clinics waited for months for Sentinel to become available (it is on the market again), but finally switched this spring to a different oral heartworm medication called Trifexis.

“We actually like it better,” he said, explaining that Trifexis also kills fleas. Sentinel interrupted the fleas’ life cycle so they could not reproduce, but it did not kill them.

“Trifexis kills fleas in addition to its heartworm protection, and that is more reassuring to us and owners,” he said. “It may be a few dollars more, but we think the additional protection is worth it.”

Trifexis would have been a substitute for Interceptor as well, he added.