Q. I can't find Excedrin on any pharmacy shelves, and it's about the only drug that helps with my migraines. I've seen it for sale on eBay. Is it a good idea to buy it from there?
A. No. There has been a shortage of Excedrin since January, when its maker recalled the drug because of concerns that oxycodone and certain other prescription opioid-type painkillers had accidentally been included in some pill bottles. As a result, some people have turned to buying Excedrin on eBay for $100 a bottle and more, according to reports. But that's not a good idea, for several reasons.
It's hard to know for certain that the bottle you are buying from an individual on eBay contains the real thing, or isn't one of the recalled bottles. And, anyway, why bother? Generic versions of Excedrin, which is just a combination product containing acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine, is still widely available, and for a whole lot less than on eBay (or with some sellers on Amazon.com, too). A spot check of pharmacies near our Yonkers, N.Y. office, for example, shows that CVS sells a 100-count bottle of its store brand, generic Excedrin for $19.49. Walgreens offers their store brand with that same pill count for about $9. And Walmart had it for less than $3, sold under their Equate store brand. Look for bottles labeled "Headache Relief" or "Migraine Relief," along with "Compared to Excedrin" marked on the bottle. (Note: prices among drugstores, even within the same chain, and online, may vary.)
Although many people worry that generic drugs aren't as safe or effective as brand-name drugs, it's not true. The active ingredients in a generic drug, including over-the-counter drugs, must be identical to its brand-name counterpart. And a generic drug manufacturer must show that its product is released into the bloodstream and maintained at the same level in the body as the brand-name drug. Finally, the Food and Drug Administration regulates generic and brand-name drugs the same way.
Excedrin isn't the only drug affected by the possible contamination problem. Its manufacturer, Novartis, also recalled Bufferin, Gas-X, and NoDoz products because their bottles might also have been tainted with prescription drugs, including oxycodone and acetaminophen (Endocet, Percocet and generics), oxymorphone (Opana), and hydrocodone and acetaminophen (Zydone and generics).
A Novartis spokesperson told us that they still expect to get Excedrin and their other recalled products back on the shelves by the second half of this year, but wouldn't give us an answer about why it has taken so long.
If you do want to buy drugs online, stick with legitimate retailers, says Carmen Catizone, R.Ph., executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, which works with each state's regulatory board. "The best advice is to only purchase medications, even over-the-counter products, from sources that you are thoroughly familiar with and have some accountability to a state or federal agency in the U.S.," says Catizone. "Individual sellers on e-Bay would not fit that description."
At these prices, Excedrin can be a headache [ Pharmalot ]
Agony of Excedrin recall [ New York Post ]
Best Buy Drugs report on drugs to treat migraines [ Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs ]