Excedrin Recall Sends Desperate Migraine Sufferers To eBay

Six months ago, production problems at a Novartis plant manufacturing over-the-counter, generic, and veterinary drugs prompted FDA action and a recall of common over-the-counter drugs such as Excedrin, No-Doz, and Gas-X. While generic versions of all of these drugs are commonly available, some Excedrin users don’t find them effective and have been clamoring for the original. Novartis isn’t producing any new Excedrin, and prices on eBay are now nearing $1 per tablet.

There’s nothing magic about Excedrin, a combination of acetaminophen, caffeine, and aspirin. But patients who prefer it claim that nothing else helps.

“The pharmacist recommended the store brand, but it made me super sick,” one user told ABC News. “I wasn’t sure if I got sick because the migraine was so advanced and the nausea was part of it, but I took it a few other times after that and it just doesn’t work for me.”

Heading online to score drugs isn’t always necessarily a good idea. Buying secondary-market pharmaceuticals, even sealed over-the-counter ones, carries the risk of counterfeits or tampering.

This problem is bigger than miserable headache sufferers with PayPal accounts, though. The recall and current shortages followed the suspension of production at the company’s plant in Lincoln, Nebraska. Generic drug maker Sandoz is also part of Novartis, and a Sandoz plant in Quebec, Canada shut down some product lines in February for similar reasons. Sandoz had a recall of its own just a few weeks ago, when Introvale birth control pills were found packaged in the wrong order.

Migraine Sufferers Scramble for Relief After Excedrin Recall [ABC] (Warning: link has auto-play video)
Agony of Excedrin recall [New York Post]
What Novartis Did Wrong At Its Consumer Plant [Pharmalot]

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  1. bnceo says:

    Placebo time!

    • techstar25 says:

      Reminds me of that great line from The Simpsons:
      Dr. Hibbert: “Why, the only cure is bed rest. Anything I give you would only be a placebo.”
      Woman: “Where do we get these placebos!?”

    • elangomatt says:

      Thank you! Move along folks, there is no reason to read anymore comments!

    • Bort says:

      Its not always a placebo effect, sometimes a certain formulation works better then another, a different filler, changes in pill structure leading to differing bioavailability, different dosages for a combination drug like this one and so forth.
      Though in practice there is likely to be a good percentage of placebo effect involved.

  2. pegasi says:

    I consider myself lucky then… this stuff doesn’t work for me, either generic or name brand…I go for the good stuff, courtesy of my doc…

    But … I discovered that Dramamine worked for me in an emergency on migraine nausea… tried it once when desperate and caught without my meds! Got me home without puking all over the car!

    • Anna says:

      I’ve used ginger chews with much the same effect – it didn’t help my headache much, but I kept me from throwing up long enough to get to some caffeine.

  3. crispyduck13 says:

    So how do these people know they’re not shelling out $1 a pill for recalled Exedrin? How bad is the recalled stuff?

    • Anna says:

      The recall was caused by some bottles getting fragmented pills and/or pills of completely different medications, so it was probably a big enough liability to make it worth recalling everything.

      Honestly, when I sent my bottles back, some of it I had been taking for three or four years without problems. I had one bottle with all of a dozen pills in it, but I was instructed to send it back – and I received the full amount for it, so no loss there.

    • Kaleey says:

      It was all recalled. Apparently there were some manufacturing problems that may have put some pills into the wrong bottles, IIRC.

  4. SirWired says:

    “There’s nothing magic about Excedrin, a combination of acetopeniphen, caffeine, and aspirin. But patients who prefer it claim that nothing else helps.”

    And those patients are simply blinded by the placebo effect. It doesn’t mean they are stupid or ignorant, just that like many pain sufferers, they have latched on to the placebo effect. The manufacture of those three drugs is simple and straightforward enough that it is inconceivable that there would be any difference between the name brand and generic.

    If Novartis (or the maker of generics) WERE doing something “special” to their pills, they would have been shut down in a heartbeat.

    • Anna says:

      It is likely that most of it is attributable to placebo effect, but the fillers can effect some people as well (like the woman who got sick after taking the generics). I have had generic prescriptions in the past that I couldn’t take because they made me break out in hives- it wasn’t a pleasant experience. I have no problems taking the generics of Excedrin, thankfully, but I’m a generics kind of person to begin with, haha.

    • Necoras says:

      That’s not 100% true. Different versions of drugs are slightly different; namely they may use different binding ingredients. Think of it as making a gingerbread house using frosting made from powdered sugar vs granulated sugar, vs corn syrup. You’re still making a house that’s mainly gingerbread and sugar, but the stuff holding it together is slightly different.

      Different binding ingredients can cause some patients to react differently. Maybe most patients have no problem breaking down the generic binding stuffs, but 5% (or whatever percentage) do. In that case, they may really not react to the active ingredients (which are required to be 100% identical) in the same way as they will to the original.

      • chancyrendezvous says:

        Well said. I think migraine sufferers may be a bit more sensitive to medication on the whole than folks with other illnesses, but I think most of us would rejoice if a placebo did the trick. Much more often, I hear about people trying multiple medications in attempt to find something that allows them to function. And anecdotally, I’ve heard from a surprising number of people who find the OTC meds work better than prescribed meds.

  5. cscastle says:

    “There’s nothing magic about Excedrin, a combination of acetopeniphen, caffeine, and aspirin.”

    “Acetopeniphen”?! Maybe that’s the magic ingredient. Everybody else uses acetaminophen.

  6. scoosdad says:

    The plant that Novartis shut down in Lincoln Nebrask which makes Excedrin also affects a number of pet drugs. My dog uses Interceptor, a monthly heartworm medication and I can’t get it anymore. The recall involved meds that are packaged in bottles and they were finding fragments of other drugs mixed into the bottles along with the recalled drugs. Interceptor is packaged individually in foil and didn’t have the kind of issue that bottled drugs did. Technically Interceptor wasn’t recalled but since it’s made in the same plant and nowhere else, production has stopped until they get this fixed.

    I have enough for four or five more months and then I’ll need to try him on a different drug. That’s not as simple as it sounds as dogs respond differently to different heartworm meds since they don’t all use the same active ingredient. One other time when I switched one of my dogs to a different drug he had a bad reaction to it and I had to switch to something else. And you have to wait a month between trying the drugs because you can’t overdose the dog trying out different heartworm meds to see if he has a reaction to it.

    You also need to work with a vet who’s willing to sell you one tablet at a time rather than a whole box of 6 or 12 pills so you can try them out without getting stuck with $50 worth of pills you can’t use.

    This concludes today’s Consumerist for Dogs post.

    • Necoras says:

      Our vet recently (a year or so ago?) started providing an injectable heartworm prevention. It lasts for about 6 months, and has so far been cheaper than the oral pill. It’s also one less thing to remember every month. Might be worth looking into.

      • scoosdad says:

        Thanks for the tip. These days even a quick visit to the vet for the injection could end up costing more than a six month supply of the pills. My vet is pretty good though and isn’t very heavy-handed on the charges.

    • peznin says:

      I just had the same issue with Interceptor. My vet was able to order me something from a compounding pharmacy that has the same ingredients as Interceptor.

    • Kestris says:

      Try Trifexis. It works awesomely for our dog. Maybe it’ll work for yours as well.

      Sentinal was stopped in production as well, because it was produced at the same plant.

  7. NeverLetMeDown2 says:

    So, take 1 Tylenol, 1 Aspirin, and 1 No-Doz.

  8. Draw2much says:

    Weeeeeell, I know the inactive ingredients can make a difference. Sometimes it’s as simple as them not digesting as quickly into the body or as bad as there being an allergic reaction to them.

    I use both generic Walmart migraine medication and Excedrin. I noticed the generic version is slower to work than Excedrin. It does work, just not as fast. That makes a difference in how effective it is with a migraine (since pain relief for migraines is all about WHEN you take the medication and how fast it kicks into effect). All I needed to do was adjust when I took the generics (sooner) and then it was OK.

    Also, we need to rephrase that last paragraph a bit…
    “There’s *something* magic about Excedrin, a combination of acetopeniphen, caffeine, and aspirin.”

  9. daemonaquila says:

    This is one of those instances where I’m not buying the “but the store brand isn’t the same” excuse. These are very common ingredients, and it doesn’t take the name-brand manufacturer to mix them correctly. Those who are complaining about the difference probably aren’t aware that not every name-brand pill they’ve ever taken is identical, either. They also change non-active ingredients from time to time.

    With some few drugs it does matter. For example, eye drops can work very differently depending on milling, preservatives, etc. But for most? It’s just hype.

    • dks64 says:

      I’ve spoken with a lot of women who had issues when changing to generic birth control. The switch cased breakthrough bleeding, migraines, bad cramps, nausea, etc. I’m sure some people are just more sensitive to the subtle differences between the name brand and generic. It could be something as simple as the red dye added to the generic pill to give it a pink tint.

  10. Not Given says:

    Check the price on this product that must be made by the same company

  11. Bodger says:

    It happens pretty frequently. My elderly mother is a firm believer in a product called Benefiber. I took her shopping and she tried to buy some but in every store it was out of stock. Clever me, I said that I’d order some from Amazon and have it shipped to her. Well, on Amazon it was going for anything up to $100 per container so that was a no-go. A bit of research showed that Novartis had stopped selling it after a recall.

  12. Kestris says:

    From what I understand, they’re supposedly restarting production some time this month. Which means, we might start seeing it in stores around Dec.

    • Kestris says:

      As to why it’s taken them 6 months? They had to update a lot of equipment at their Lincoln plant before the FDA would sign off on it. I’ve read it’s cost them somewhere around $2 million to comply with everything the FDA found wrong.

      The shutdown is also why animal heartworm meds such as Interceptor and Sentinal are in extremely short supply as well.

  13. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I buy the WalMart generic brand, and take them when I get a wicked headache. They seem to work as good as the name brand for me, anyway. But I’m a sturdier sort, and everything I take is generic, and so far I haven’t had any issues.

  14. Sham says:

    Costco used to carrier Excedrin until the recall. Instead of waiting for Excedrin to come back, they went ahead and made their own Kirkland Signature brand. Falls into the generic category, but the stuff works just as good for me.

  15. Difdi says:

    Nothing else helps? If migraine sufferers were less ignorant, they’d suffer from fewer headaches.

    There’s a plant, called feverfew, that is a specific remedy for migraine headaches. Turns them off like flipping a light switch. I know people tend to reach for a pill instead of a tea bag in the U.S., but a little education would make their lives so much easier.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      We have a word for natural plants that have been proven to cure ailments: “Medicine.”

      You see, they take the plant, do 20 years of research to determine exactly what in the plant cures the ailment, extract it, concentrate it so that you get the same dose faster, then package it and sell it to you.

      When they don’t work, the published studies indicate that.

      http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD002286.pub2/abstract;jsessionid=F5BE52AF0A8CBD2CAEB5427D2421B602.d03t03

    • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

      Feverfew grows wild here, but I wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to process it to make my headache go away. When I get a bad headache, I reach for the pills, a glass of cold water, and I lay down and wait for the pain to go away. I really don’t think I could muster the strength to go outside, find the plant, pick it, and do whatever needs to be done to dose myself.

      At the same time, you make a good point. It’s just not practical in most situations.

    • shepd says:

      Yes, because ignorance gives people migraines, and all migraines have the same triggers.

      And this feverfew sounds like today’s St. John’s Wort. My mom decided to listen to someone like yourself and while her migraine went away she was sick as a dog for the next 2 days. Screw that.

  16. steveliv says:

    i use this exclusively and it really helps out when i have really bad headaches, i still have about two containers left, so i hope this all gets sorted out before i run out.