FDA Warns of Fake "Anti-Radiation" Pills

March 22, 2011
Laura Enderle Associate Editor

Japan’s nuclear scare could prompt an onslaught of drug scams that prey on radiation fears.

US government agencies are warning consumers not to be fooled by counterfeit drugs claiming to protect against illness caused by radiation exposure. The first notice was issued by the FDA on Thursday, March 17, after fears of radiation leaking from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant prompted a US shortage of potassium iodide tablets (KI).

The supplement can protect against thyroid cancer in patients who are contaminated with radioactive iodine; however, public health officials say the near-hysterical demand for potassium iodide tablets is unwarranted. According to the FDA Web site, “There is no public health event requiring anyone in the United States to take KI because of the ongoing situation in Japan.”

Along with the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report that radiation fear has resulted in abnormally high demand for the tablets. Officials say this lays the groundwork for drug scams—a far more pressing threat than radiation wafting across the Pacific Ocean from Japan’s shores.

“Recent reports of events in Japan are causing scam artists to try to convince consumers that they need potassium iodide pills and drops to protect themselves,” FTC wrote in a news release Monday. “Fraudsters follow the headlines, tailoring their offers to prey on current consumer fears and vulnerabilities.”

The warnings did not say whether any fraudulent products have been identified. FDA national health fraud coordinator Gary Coody told USA Today that the agency has found “many different offers for potassium iodide and other products we’re taking a look at.” In addition to potassium iodide tablets, these include iodine-enriched foods, such as seaweed and kelp.

Even legitimate products, which contain extremely high doses of KI, can cause harmful side effects in patients who are hypersensitive to iodine or have existing thyroid disorders, FTC warned. Pharmacists who field questions about potassium iodide should remind patients of this fact, review the supplement’s official indications and contraindications, and direct patients to reliable literature on the topic.

Patients who insist on taking potassium iodide tablets as a preventive measure should be urged to buy from a reputable source. Only 3 drugs are approved by the FDA to protect against radiation-induced thyroid cancer; these include Iosat Tablets (Anbex), Thyrosafe Tablets (Recipharm AB), and ThyroShield Solution (Fleming & Company Pharmaceuticals).

An FDA guide to radiation safety, including recommendations for the safe purchase and use of potassium iodide tablets, is available at http://phrmcyt.ms/e1WCrG. But, the FDA insists, “the US government is not recommending that residents of the United States or its territories take potassium iodide, even as a preventive measure.”

For other articles in this issue, see:

  • $4 Generics Could Save Billions in Health Spending
  • Honoring Pharmacy’s Patient Care Champions