Seasickness Patch in Short Supply

Transderm Scop, the behind-the-ear patch worn by travelers prone to motion sickness, has become almost impossible to find.

A telephone poll of seven Los Angeles area pharmacies, including large chains and independents, turned up empty. Not one had a patch left on the shelf.

"The chances are unlikely of finding one," said Mark Ryan, a spokesman for CIBA Consumer Pharmaceuticals of Woodbridge, N.J., the sole U.S. manufacturer of the patch.

Nationally, supplies are all but exhausted, having dwindled ever since manufacture of the patch was halted last August by CIBA because of a production problem. New supplies are not expected to reach pharmacy shelves until October at the earliest, said CIBA's Eric Jackson, which pretty much rules out spring and summer cruisers using the patches for seasickness prevention.

On the market since 1980, the Transderm Scop patch is about the size of a dime. It is infused with 1.5 milligrams of scopolamine, an alkaloid often used as a sedative that helps reduce the activity of the nerve fibers in the inner ear. How scopolamine works is not exactly known, but the popular theory is that it inhibits motion sickness symptoms by blocking transmission of impulses from the inner ear to the brain.

When it's available, the patch retails for about $20-$25 for a pack of four and is applied four hours before it is needed. The wearer can shower, exercise or swim with it in place. But while wearing the patch, people should not drive or operate dangerous machinery, according to CIBA literature, and they should avoid drinking alcohol. Nor is the patch recommended for pregnant or nursing women, children, the elderly or those with glaucoma, urinary problems or allergies to scopolamine, and anyone with metabolic, liver or kidney disease or stomach or intestinal obstruction. And there can be side effects from wearing the patch, including dry mouth, drowsiness and blurred vision.

While scopolamine is not available in pill form, there are many other treatments for motion sickness, according to physicians and pharmacists.

Pharmacist Doug Anderson of Austin Drugs in Montrose points customers to over-the-counter medications such as Dramamine (dimenhydrinate) and Bonine (meclizine).

Dramamine and Bonine are both antihistamines that can cause drowsiness, although "Bonine causes less drowsiness (than Dramamine)," Anderson said. Both Dramamine and Bonine are taken about every four hours.

Another option is anti-motion sickness wristbands, which put pressure on the acupressure points thought to control nausea and vomiting, said Michael Stern, pharmacist and owner of Dana Drug Store in Toluca Lake. "And they're not invasive," he said.

One such product, the Sea-Band, has a button inside that's placed over the acupressure point, said Bob Bovie, a spokesman for Sea-Band International. The bands are sold in drugstores for about $10 a pair.

While this method may not work for everyone, a study published last year in the medical journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, concluded that acupressure helps reduce nausea (but not vomiting) in pregnant women.

Taking along both over-the-counter remedies and the wristbands is recommended by Dr. Terri Rock, a Santa Monica family physician with a special interest in travel medicine.

Travelers might also ask their physician about other prescription medicines, she said. "There are many prescription anti-emetics (drugs that prevent or relieve nausea and vomiting) that have been used for motion sickness," she said. "There are three or four prescription remedies for motion sickness," Anderson added, "but they are not commonly prescribed," because, in his view, over-the-counter remedies work just as well.

Whatever the remedy, prevention is the key. Once someone gets motion sick, Rock said, "it's a hard cycle to break."

In the meantime, Los Angeles pharmacists are scouring the country in an effort to find the patches.

Since receiving a letter from CIBA late last year informing them of the supply problem, some have even tried e-mailing patch requests to colleagues in other parts of the country, said pharmacist Anderson.

The Healthy Traveler appears the second and fourth week of every month.

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