Police: Tylenol Case Helped Avert Another Tampering Tragedy

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Byline: Lorilyn Rackl Daily Herald Staff Writer

It didn't take detectives and lab tests for a Wheeling man to realize something was drastically wrong with the bottle of Excedrin-Aspirin Free painkillers his wife bought Monday at the local Kmart.

There was no plastic shrink wrap enveloping the bottle's cap.

Under the cap, there was no protective seal over the mouth of the bottle.

There was no cotton ball to remove.

"Last, but not least, he noticed the red pills weren't there, but white ones were," said Wheeling Deputy Police Chief J. Michael Hermes.

There's a good chance that bottle of painkillers wouldn't have raised many red flags 15 years ago, before cyanide-tainted Tylenol capsules took the lives of seven Chicago-area residents.

Those victims - including residents of Arlington Heights, Lisle, Winfield, Elk Grove Village and Elmhurst - had no reason to believe someone had tampered with their Extra-Strength Tylenol, replacing the acetaminophen powder with deadly cyanide.

"At that time there were no regulations. Nothing like this had ever happened," said Darlene Bailey, a spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration in Chicago.

Barely one month after the Tylenol murders, the FDA mandated all nonprescription drugs, even mouthwash, be packaged in a tamper-resistant container with at least one seal protecting the product from would-be tamperers.

Many manufacturers go above and beyond that requirement with multiple seals and warnings to consumers to look for signs of tampering.

"You used to be able to buy aspirin and push the box top to get it open," said Bob Long, a spokesman for the FBI, one of the main investigating agencies in the Tylenol case.

Long credited that tragedy with revolutionizing the way products are packaged to help prevent another deadly tampering spree.

"That's one good thing we've seen take place," Long said. "It's a lot more difficult (to tamper), but it's not impossible."

That point is illustrated by the recent incident in Wheeling, where two tainted bottles of painkillers were sold within the last two weeks at Kmart, 780 W. Dundee Road.

Lab results released Wednesday show the contents of a bottle of Excedrin-Aspirin Free Extra Strength Pain Reliever and American Fare Aspirin Free Extra Strength Pain Reliever, Kmart's generic brand, contain a "potentially dangerous controlled substance," police said. …