Empty Shelves Causing Headaches for Excedrin Users

Excedrin users have had an extra headache recently – finding a bottle of their favorite over-the-counter painkillers.

Novartis, which makes Excedrin, voluntarily recalled the product in early January after an internal review and complaints turned up broken and chipped tablets and could not rule out the possibility of other pills mixed with Excedrin.

As a result, Novartis shut down production at the Lincoln, Nebraska, plant where Excedrin is produced. The company hopes to restart manufacturing there this month, but could not say when Excedrin will be available again for purchase.

That has desperate customers turning to alternative sources. Auctions sites like eBay are seeing brisk Excedrin sales. Earlier this week, 100 tablets of Excedrin Migraine sold for $131.50, after seven potential buyers entered 19 bids on the pills. Individually wrapped tablets, which are not part of the recall, are currently selling at steep mark-ups.

Excedrin customers seem to be very brand loyal, pharmacist John Cannizzaro said. A bottle of 24 pills might retail for about $4.99 in his Hudson Square Pharmacy in the West Village.   

“When the generic is available, they seem to just want the Excedrin,” he added. “And they’re a little upset about [it not being in stock].”

In addition to Excedrin, Novartis also recalled other over-the-counter drugs produced at the same plant, including Bufferin, Gas-X and NoDos.

Together those products account for about $1 billion or 2 percent of the company’s annual sales, said Damien Conover, the director of pharmaceutical research at Morningstar, Inc.

“It’s not giant, but it’s meaningful,” he said. “It’s weighing on the company stock price to some extent.”

The stock is down nearly 9 percent from pre-recall levels in early January.

Conover expects inventory levels will not be back to normal until 2013.