More Cyanide Found; FDA Issues Alert on Excedrin

Times Staff Writer

Cyanide has been found in a capsule in a second bottle of Extra-Strength Excedrin, the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday night, warning that consumers nationwide should remove the capsules from their medicine cabinets until further notice.

In an interview, FDA Commissioner Frank E. Young said: "We are issuing a national alert. Everyone should avoid taking Excedrin capsules until further notice. It is imperative that we warn people nationally. Especially, we want parents to protect children. They should remove any Excedrin capsules and put them out of the reach of young children."

Late Wednesday, Young said, agency scientists in Seattle identified the cyanide in a capsule from the same lot number as that used by Sue Snow, a 40-year-old bank manager who died June 11 of cyanide poisoning. Snow's was a 60-capsule bottle from lot 5H 102, with an expiration date of August, 1988, while the second bottle contained 40 capsules, he said. He said he did not know if the two bottles had been purchased in the same store.

Authorities examined the second bottle because an unidentified Seattle-area man in his 50s, who was pronounced dead June 5 of natural causes, reportedly had taken capsules from it. The widow recently told police that her husband had used Excedrin capsules from the same lot number that Snow used.

The FDA analyzed the seven capsules remaining in the man's bottle and found two that "looked suspicious," and further analysis confirmed the presence of cyanide. However, Young said that the agency does not yet know if the cyanide found is chemically the same as that in Snow's bottle. The second bottle will be sent to the FDA's Cincinnati laboratory for further analysis.

On Tuesday, officials had said that Snow's death apparently was an isolated case. Reports from the FDA's Seattle lab had confirmed that she died of acute cyanide poisoning. Of the 56 capsules left inside the 60-capsule bottle in her home, three contained significant amounts of cyanide, officials said.

But Wednesday night, Young declared: "We think it's more likely now to be a case of tampering." He added that "there have been suicides which are often copycats, but we just can't tell at this point."

Earlier Wednesday, an FDA spokesman in Seattle said that more than 73,000 capsules from the area had been analyzed and none were found to be tainted with cyanide.

Bristol-Myers, manufacturer of the popular painkiller, had asked retailers to remove Extra-Strength Excedrin capsules from store shelves until further notice. But Young urged consumers Wednesday night to remove the capsules from their home medicine cabinets to avoid their accidental consumption.

"All we can do is tell the American people that this is an unsolved case," he said. "We just don't know how the cyanide got in the capsules. All we can do at this point is ask that no one take them. We want to prevent another national tragedy."

8 Tampering Deaths

In the last four years, at least eight deaths have been linked to drug tampering, including those of seven persons in the Chicago area who died in 1982 after taking Extra-Strength Tylenol contaminated with cyanide.

The death last February of Diane Elsroth, a 23-year-old stenographer from New York, remains under investigation. Elsroth had taken cyanide-laced Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules.

Her death prompted Johnson & Johnson, manufacturer of Tylenol, to permanently halt production of all capsule products.

There have been other suspicious incidents in recent months. The death of a Pullman, Wash., woman was ruled not a case of tampering, and a cyanide poisoning case in Tennessee was ruled a suicide.

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