Tylenol recalls spur shortages

By Parija Kavilanz, senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Five months after Johnson & Johnson drugmaking divison McNeil Consumer Healthcare recalled millions of Tylenol and Motrin products, store shelves across the nation are still bare of these medications.

McNeil, which makes popular over-the-counter pain and cold drugs like Tylenol, Zyrtec, Motrin and Bendryl, has issued successive recalls of those products.

On January 15, the company recalled those non-prescription drugs for adults after receiving complaints of an "unusual moldy, musty or mildew-like" odor.

On Tuesday, McNeil announced that it was expanding the January recall because some products were "inadvertently omitted from the initial recall."

The drugmaker added four additional lots of Benadryl allergy ultratab tablets (100 count), and one product lot of extra strength Tylenol rapid release gels (50 count) to the recall.

It wasn't immediately clear how many units are in a product lot. However, what is known is that for many retailers, the January recall created spot shortages of these drugs.

"After that January recall, McNeil has faced a replenishment issue for these drugs, and it has affected all retailers," said Michael DeAngelis, spokesman for the No. 2 drugstore chain CVS.

And just last month, McNeil's drug woes hit its children's products, forcing the company to recall millions of children's over-the-counter drugs including Tylenol, Motrin and Zyrtec for quality and safety concerns.

Stores' Tylenol headache

An employee at a CVS (CVS, Fortune 500) on Chicago's North Michigan Avenue said Tuesday that the store doesn't have any Tylenol or Motrin in stock.

"It's because of the manufacturer's big recall in January," said the employee, who asked that his name not be used.

It's the same situation at a Walgreens (WAG, Fortune 500) store in downtown Atlanta. The store replaced its Tylenol and Motrin products with generic versions of those drugs.

"We don't know when we're getting Tylenol or Motrin back," a store employee said.

And a Duane Reade drug store in New York's upper west side was mostly sold out of adult Tylenol products.

McNeil spokeswoman Bonnie Jacobs said that "the pace of restocking is accelerating" following the January recall.

The drugmaker expects to be "at close to normal levels of production toward the end of the second quarter," Jacobs said.

However, retailers were less certain of when their stocks of Tylenol, Motrin and the other recalled drugs would be full.

Tiffani Washington, spokeswoman for Walgreens, the country's largest drugstore chain, said the company is "seeing some supply issues with adult Tylenol products" and that it is "working to meet customer needs with other products."

Washington said the shortages were also seen at Walgreens' Duane Reade division, which it acquired earlier this year.

Although Walgreens is getting daily updates from Johnson & Johnson about production levels, Washington could not say when the Tylenol shortage would end in Walgreens stores.

And another complication for stores that are dealing with supply problems is that some of the recalled drugs may not ever return to shelves.

CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis, said his understanding is that some over-the-counter drugs recalled by McNeil in January may also have been discontinued.

"So once we have sold out of the existing inventory of that product, then that's it," he said.

Jacobs, the McNeil spokeswoman, declined to respond to questions about whether some of McNeil's recalled products have been discontinued.

Besides drugstore chains, major discounters Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500) and Target (TGT, Fortune 500) have also experienced problems replenishing their supplies of Tylenol and Motrin.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Caren Epstein said the discounter had experienced some "tightening of supply" after the recall, but that "we're actually in better shape than we were immediately after the recall for those products."

Meanwhile, Target stores nationwide started posting signs last Friday addressing the shortages and pointing consumers to its store brand "Up and up."

The signs said: "Up & up pain relief products have the same active ingredients & are safe & effective replacements for comparable national brands. We apologize for any inconvenience due to the recent recall of select adult, pediatric & infant pain relief products."

"Retailers across the industry are facing inventory issues with regard to certain products manufactured by Johnson & Johnson and Target is no exception," said Target spokesman Joshua Thomas.

"We're working hard to ensure our guests can still find the products they need," he said. "In this situation, that means reinforcing Up & up as an alternative to the national brand." To top of page

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