Q: Why haven't I been able to find the over-the-counter drugs Excedrin or Prevacid24HR in any pharmacies lately? Is this happening in my area only, or is it a nationwide problem?
A. You've got a keen eye for what's missing from drugstore shelves. Both the pain reliever Excedrin and the heartburn drug Prevacid24HR have been unavailable in pharmacies across the U.S. this year, for different reasons.
In January, Excedrin products containing more than 10 tablets or caplets were recalled by Novartis Consumer Health, which makes the drug, after it learned that chipped or broken tablets and occasional pills from other medications could have been packed into the Excedrin bottles. Those other drugs, reportedly, could include the prescription opioid pain relievers oxycodone and acetaminophen (Endocet, Percocet and generics), oxymorphone (Opana), and hydrocodone, and acetaminophen (Zydone and generic). The recall also applied to Bufferin, Gas-X Prevention, and NoDoz. See below for a complete list of products affected in this recall. The company says it plans to begin manufacturing Excedrin and the other products again soon and will start shipping them to pharmacies towards the second half of 2012.
As for Prevacid24HR, while the drug was not recalled, the company temporarily stopped production in January while it made improvements to its manufacturing facility. By March, Prevacid24HR became difficult to find. However, it started to reappear in May and you can expect to see it back on pharmacy shelves soon.
CVS, Rite Aid and Target confirmed that they have experienced shortages of both drugs, but that shipments of Prevacid24HR have started arriving. They do not have an anticipated date for when Excedrin will return.
If you rely on an OTC drug that is temporarily unavailable, talk with your pharmacist about other options, including generic medications. For example, many generic and store brand products contain the same combination of medications found in Excedrin (aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine).
In the case of Prevacid24HR (lansoprazole) our Consumer Reports Best Buy Drug analysis finds that all drugs in this class, known as proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, are similarly effective and safe, and that their main difference is cost. If you must take a PPI, consider the generic drug omeprazole (Prilosec), which can be purchased without a prescription for as little as $19 for a month's supply.
Novartis list of recalled products
FDA list of current drug shortages