Where Has My Slow Fe Iron Supplement Gone?

Cheryl takes iron supplements. She has iron deficiency anemia, and the vast majority of iron supplements on the market make her ill. She’s come to rely on Slow-Fe, made by Novartis, to keep her iron levels up and her digestive system functioning. Then Slow-Fe disappeared. Her regular pharmacist can’t find any to order, and the only sources online are re-sellers with expired products. Remembering our past coverage of catastrophic OB tampon, Eggo waffle, and Morningstar veggie dog shortages, Cheryl wrote to us, asking for help. Could we help her figure out where her precious iron had gone?

She wrote:

I have iron defieciency anemia. If I take Slow-Fe, I don’t have iron deficiency. If I try and take other iron supplements, I get sick (as in wake up at 3 am and run to the bathroom sick).

However, much like the Today Sponge and OB tampons, Slow-Fe appears to have vanished from the market without a ripple in the news media. My doctor doesn’t know what happened. My pharmacist doesn’t know and can’t find any in the warehouses to order.

Amazon is selling it — expired. From resellers.

Nothing on drugstore.com, wal-mart.com, or about 15 other sites I tried. They all say, “temporarily unavailable.”

There’s no recall that I can find, and Novartis has (ominously) removed the product from their website.

On behalf of millions of women with anemia and less than steel-clad intestines, help me Consumerist, you’re my only hope!

We take the charge to locate missing products seriously. Alert readers might remember the name Novartis from yesterday’s post about Excedrin shortages after January’s recall. We contacted Novartis and they confirmed that Slow Fe is made in the same Nebraska facility that made the other missing meds. That facility suspended production in late 2011, and its products still aren’t back on shelves.

Their statement:

Novartis OTC is conducting maintenance and improvements at our Lincoln, Nebraska facility which manufactures Slow Fe. As a result, we are experiencing a supply disruption at some retailers and Slow Fe may be temporarily unavailable. We are working as quickly as we can to return these products back to store shelves. We apologize for any inconvenience this may be causing our consumers, and appreciate their patience and loyalty.

Thanks, Novartis. For the sake of Cheryl and her fellow anemia sufferers, hope you’re able to get the pills flowing again soon.


Edit Your Comment

  1. Kabusted says:

    It always baffles me when someone says… “Where my…?” “What happened to my…?” “Please Interwebs community, you’re my only hope”… How about calling the mfg of the product. Heck, even I knew the reason for the missing suppliment, and I’m only deficient in not having a real personality.

    The real question, even though there is a public statement as to the reason for the disruption, is about the real reason for the shut down. Well,Google, and 2 minutes of time finds the following statements:

    One big problem: Novartis failed to investigate consumer complaints about mixed-up tablets in bottles, among other serious violations…


    • SecretShopper: pours out a lil' liquor for the homies Wasp & Otter says:

      Yeah that stuff was in the first page of results, although the fact that they removed the product from the website seems a bit extreme, and maybe that’s why the call (email?) was sent to the consumerist.

  2. cactus jack says:

    Guinness has plenty of iron. Maybe try that.

    • Blueskylaw says:

      I whole heartedly agree with this idea – hiccough – I think
      I need to grab the floor again before I fall off the Earth.

  3. Coles_Law says:

    All three products on Amazon are not expired, though they expire later this year (October). It may be a bit more expensive, but SlowFe is pricey compared to standard iron pils anyway.

  4. Sorta Kinda Lucky Soul says:

    Now that we have the mystery of the disappearing pills solved, how about the mystery of the disappearing Consumerist Website???? Hows about we provide the promised solution to that little snafu.

    • ovalseven says:

      I’ve been looking for that too. I’d suppose it’s not really any of my business, but the page said they’d be back with details of what happened. Now I’m curious.

    • Blueskylaw says:

      There was another Exploit Blackhole Exploit Kit Trojan on their site; they promised to explain everything once “required maintenance” was performed.

      I smell a story here – perhaps I should submit a Consumerist tip?

      • Galium says:

        Are you sure it did not have anything to do with Homeland Security asking for all the names of people who complained about redacted, when redacted cut service to everyone in redacted on redacted 2012? /s

      • swearint says:

        I don’t know the details, but last week I sent in a tip concerning Barracuda Networks flagging Consumerist as phishing/scam website. I had to disable it in order to access the site. I just checked and re-enabling now allows access.

        • ovalseven says:

          AVG blocked last week’s open thread on one of my PCs. Sophos is still popping up warnings on my other one.

      • The Colonel says:

        Consumerist down for half a day, shrugs.

  5. topgun says:

    Good answer. Plus other benefits not found in Slow FE.

  6. humphrmi says:

    Is there any real issue with expired meds? I always thought that the expiration date was more of a “Please throw these perfectly good pills away and buy more from us” date. Although, I’m not a doctor and by no means should this comment be construed as advising that the OP should buy and take expired meds.{/disclaimer}

    • SirWired says:

      It depends on the medication. Most, no. Some drugs, however, DO expire. (Nitroglycerin is the most prominent example, but even some common things, like Vitamin C, break down in the presence of oxygen.) Unfortunately, no drug company necessarily wants to actually run that study, so they measure potency, purity, etc., after a certain amount of time, and if it checks out, that becomes the expiration period. The drug might have been good for another decade, but there’s no advantage at all to finding out.

      Moral of the story: Don’t panic if you have a headache and your Tylenol is a couple months out of date, but don’t necessarily go buying a decade’s worth at a time from Sam’s Club either.

    • Peri Duncan says:

      Here’s a link with info regarding using expired meds. Like food, medications can expire but still be good for a time after the expiration date (like the date on milk is the last day to buy it, but it is good, if stored properly, for at least a week past that).

      But the manufacturers won’t guarantee freshness (nor efficacy) beyond that date. And as a paramedic, I run the risk of malpractice lawsuits if I use expired meds. Sometimes expired meds are donated to poorer countries where having an expired by still useful, or a slightly less powerful medication is superior to having none.

    • MrEvil says:

      I don’t know about supplements, but in medications the active ingredient can break down over time to the point where it’s completely ineffective. Pills aren’t packaged in vacuum containers so they’re exposed to Oxygen and moisture in the air, numerous chemical reactions can take place that can degrade the ingredients.

  7. Blueskylaw says:

    “My doctor doesn’t know what happened”
    “My pharmacist doesn’t know and can’t find any in the warehouses to order”

    With all of their professional degrees and years of training, they can’t figure out what hapenned?
    A quick google search would have explained “the situation©”.

    I would have loved to experience the days when doctors and health care professionals still made regular house calls and actually cared about you.

    • SirWired says:

      But for the Dr. or Pharmacist, does it really matter what happened? If they can’t get the drug, they can’t get the drug…

      Maybe the OP could have, you know, actually CALLED the phone number on the bottle and asked if she was REALLY that curious…

      • Blueskylaw says:

        If their patient can only tolerate a certain medication and now that medication is no longer available for some unknown reason, it would behoove them to find out why it isn’t available not only for their patients benefit but so that they would also have this knowledge. It seems that that only thing the doctor and pharmacist did was shrug and say – I dunno?

        • SirWired says:

          Their responsibility lies in finding an alternative solution to the patient’s problem.

          But finding out why the drug is out of stock? What difference does that make to patient care? Knowing this isn’t going to make the drug appear again.

          • Blueskylaw says:

            “Knowing this isn’t going to make the drug appear again”

            How will they know unless they check?

    • StarKillerX says:

      They probably never bothered checking anything other then availablity, and why would they? I mean does it really matter to either of them why it isn’t available?

      Seems your over reaching and trying to use this to show a lack of caring when in fact it’s simply a matter that the reasoning is meaningless so why bother?

  8. KieranM says:

    I have it on reliable authority that CVS brand timed-release iron works as well as anything. Cured my sister’s anemia, anyway. She’s eternally grateful to the pharmacist who suggested she try it. She had been prescribed some very expensive stuff that was tearing up her stomach. The CVS brand brought her red blood count back to where it should be, cheaply, with no ill effects.

    • KieranM says:

      I should add, it took a few months.

    • Blueskylaw says:

      “The CVS brand brought her red blood count back
      to where it should be, cheaply, with no ill effects”

      The makers of the expensive stuff will soon be paying a visit to the pharmacist who recommended a store brand; yelling in his face and asking why the hell he hates them
      so much and what his major malfunction is.

  9. chatterboxwriter says:

    I hope they make these “quality improvements” quickly. I have very low iron saturation, so I have to take iron, but regular iron makes me SICK. Slow Fe is the only thing I can tolerate. If they do away with it, I might just have to stop taking iron and deal with the anemia. That’s how sick I get from other kinds.

  10. ArizonaGeek says:

    Excedrine, NoDoz GasEx and others are off the shelf as well, people are hitting up Ebay for Exedrine Migraine. As a migraine sufferer if I didn’t have my prescription I might be that desperate, Exedrine is the only OTC that offers some relief.


    • ash says:

      I don’t quite understand the run on Excedrin Migraine on eBay. There are generics which offer the same active ingredients in the same quantities. There can be differences btwn different brands in terms of actives for drugs with a narrow therapeutic index, but the actives in Excedrin Migraine (caffeine, acetaminophen, aspirin) don’t fit in that category. (narrow therapy means that small dose changes actually do make a difference)

  11. Such an Interesting Monster says:

    Cheryl should consider eating iron-rich foods to get what she needs naturally and not be dependent upon a single manufacturer for her continued health.

    • BookLady says:

      Monster, unfortunately, some of us are unable to absorb all the nutrients we need from the food we eat and must rely on supplements. and FYI – most women who are of menstruating age need additional iron due to the loss of blood every month.

    • henry.the.pug says:

      Sometimes people have diseases or illnesses where they have to rely on iron supplements because diet alone isn’t enough. I have ulcerative colitis and when I’m flaring I can’t eat, I bleed all the time and I become anemic quick. I take Slow Fe religiously when I’m sick :/

    • MMD says:

      Are you a doctor?

    • LotusNJ says:

      Or she could have a GI issue that makes absorbing vitamins and nutrients from her foods next to impossible. I eat a very healthful diet and I’m anemic, B-12 deficient, calcium deficient as well as a host of other nutrients all due to celiac disease.

  12. nissansupragtr says:

    The generic will still be available from multiple manufacturers. It’ll be the same medication at the same dose, made by a different company. Most pharmacies will have it right next to the spot for the brand name, in a similar package.

  13. LotusNJ says:

    The OP could also go to her local health food store or if she has a Whole Foods nearby go there and buy Slow Iron. Novartis doesn’t have a lock on that product. I used to take Slow FE by Novartis until I saw that Slow Iron was around $5 cheaper at the health food store for more pills.

  14. Not Given says:

    There is a generic you can try,it’s also time-release ferrous sulfate
    If that doesn’t help try Floradix.

    • adso says:

      This Members mark product is from Sam’s Club. I have been buying it for years, works just the same as Slow fe, I too have anemia and have to take it daily. It is less expensive at Sam’s Club than whoever is selling it on Amazon, although if you don’t have a Sam’s Club near you then buy it there.