Tylenol scare

From Academic Kids

The Tylenol scare occurred in the autumn of 1982, after seven people in the Chicago, Illinois area in the United States died after ingesting Extra Strength Tylenol medicine capsules which had been laced with cyanide poison. The perpetrator has never been caught, but the incident led to reforms in the packaging of over-the-counter medications and federal anti-tampering laws.

In the early morning of Wednesday, September 29, 1982, 12-year old Mary Kellerman of Elk Grove Village died after taking a capsule of Extra Strength Tylenol (a brand of acetaminophen manufactured by McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals). Adam Janus of Arlington Heights, died in the hospital shortly thereafter. His brother, Stanley (of Lisle) and his wife Theresa died after gathering to mourn, taking pills from the same bottle. By October 1, the poisoning had also taken the lives of Paula Prince of Chicago, Mary Reiner of Winfield, and Mary McFarland of Elmhurst. Investigators soon discovered the Tylenol link; They had become the first known fatalities in a case of product tampering. Urgent warnings were broadcast, and police drove through Chicago neighborhoods issuing warnings over loudspeakers.

As the tampered bottles came from different factories, and the seven deaths had all occurred in the Chicago area, the possibility of sabotage during production was ruled out. Instead, the culprit was believed to have entered various supermarkets and drug stores over a period of weeks, pilfered packages of Tylenol from the shelves, adulterated their contents with solid cyanide compound at another location, and then replaced the bottles. In addition to the five bottles which led to the victims' deaths, three other tampered bottles were discovered.

Johnson & Johnson, the parent company of McNeil, distributed warnings to hospitals and distributors and halted Tylenol production and advertising. On October 5, it issued a nationwide recall of Tylenol products; an estimated 31 million bottles were in circulation, with a retail value of over US$100 million. The company also advertised in the national media for individuals not to consume any products that contained Tylenol. When it was determined that only capsules were tampered with, they offered to exchange all Tylenol capsules already purchased by the public with solid tablets.

Johnson & Johnson was praised by the media at the time for its handling of the incident. While at the time of the scare the market share of Tylenol collapsed from 35% to 8%, it rebounded in less than a year, a move credited to J&J's prompt and aggressive reaction. In November it reintroduced capsules, but in a new, triple-sealed package, coupled with heavy price promotions, and within several years Tylenol had become the most popular over-the-counter analgesic in the United States.

The crime has never been solved, although an opportunistic extortionist with no connection to the deaths had made a money demand. This person, one James Lewis, was arrested and ended up serving 13 years of a 20-year prison term for the extortion.

The capsules were later found to contain 65 milligrams of cyanide each, approximately the lethal dose to an adult. This is the first known deliberate tampering of a medication that led to death.

A number of copycat attacks involving Tylenol and other products ensued during the following years. However, the incident did inspire the pharmaceutical, food, and consumer product industries to develop tamper-resistant packaging and improved quality-control methods.

Additionally, the tragedy prompted the pharmaceutical industry to move away from capsules, which were easy to contaminate as a foreign substance could be placed inside without obvious signs of tampering. Within the year, the Food and Drug Administration introduced more stringent regulations to avoid product tampering. This led to the eventual replacement of the capsule with the solid "caplet" as a drug delivery form and to the addition of tamper-evident safety-seals to bottles of many sorts.

A $100,000 reward, posted by Johnson & Johnson for the capture and conviction of the "Tylenol Killer", has never been claimed.

External links

Further reading

  • Wolnik KA, Fricke FL, Bonnin E, Gaston CM, Satzger RD. The Tylenol tampering incident--tracing the source. Anal Chem 1984;56:466A-8A, 470A, 474A. (Medline citation (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=6711821))
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