Where's the Tylenol? Many stores' shelves bare

Plant problems cutting output

Staff writerSeptember 10, 2011 

Robert Duah-Mensah opened Quail Corners Pharmacy in Raleigh about six months ago. For most of that time, he hasn't been able to carry Tylenol headache pills on his shelves.

"It seems to me that nobody has it. It's hard to find," Duah-Mensah said, looking at his wholesaler's website. "It's either 'unavailable from manufacturer' or 'discontinued from manufacturer.' Unavailable could be a lot of things. It's hard for me to know exactly what it is."

Some Raleigh stores are facing Tylenol shortages as the pain reliever as well as Tylenol PM, Motrin, Imodium, Sudafed and Benadryl face shipping delays. The delays come after manufacturing violations forced three plants operated by McNeil PPC, a division of Johnson & Johnson, to be placed under the Food and Drug Administration's supervision in March.

The plants - two in Pennsylvania and one in Puerto Rico - are being inspected by an independent expert who is reviewing records from certain product batches before they go to market, according to a company statement.

"As a result of this additional step, McNeil Consumer Healthcare is currently experiencing some delays in shipping," the release states. McNeil officials anticipate the delays should decline as the company meets its agreement with the FDA, according to the statement.

The McNeil plants were placed under FDA supervision after the company failed to comply with federal manufacturing practice requirements. The violations resulted in extensive recalls, including an April 2010 callback of children's liquid medicine such as Tylenol, Motrin, Zyrtec and Benadryl.

McNeil spokesman James Freeman declined to comment on the regions supplied by each of the plants or on when a regular shipping schedule might resume.

Pharmacist Mike James, owner of Person Street Pharmacy in Raleigh, has been out of Tylenol for about a month. He said he has heard several explanations as to why the medication isn't available.

"Some of them are saying there's a manufacturing problem; sometimes they're saying there's a problem with the raw materials," he said. "I asked our wholesaler if they've gotten a release date on any products, and they had not at the time."

James said he can offer only alternatives to his customers looking for Tylenol.

"They don't understand why it's not available," he said. "A lot of them are just going to the generic."

Over at Holly Park Pharmacy on Wake Forest Road, pharmacist Tom Murry said he now has some Tylenol on the shelf, although that wasn't always the case.

"There was a shortage because of that recall, but I can order it fine now," he said.

In 2010 alone, McNeil made at least 13 recalls of medicine ranging from Zyrtec Itchy Eye Drops to Rolaids Softchews. This year the division has made about five callbacks.

Duah-Mensah said he still has some adult-strength Tylenol liquids on his shelf, though most customers aren't interested in those.

And as for what he uses, Duah-Mensah says he tends to shy from the brand.

"For Tylenol, I'm not a big fan," he said. "If I need to take a pain medication, I'll probably use ibuprofen."

tori.stilwell@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4649

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