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Radiation fears: Iodide pills selling in America

Local residents rushed to scoop up potassium iodide supplements to guard against radiation exposure wafting from Japan, despite health officials’ warnings that the supplements are needless and could cause adverse side effects.

“Residents who take potassium iodide out of concern of possible radiation exposure from the events in Japan could be putting their health at risk due to side effects,” said Dr. Damon Arnold, director of Illinois’ Department of Public Health, which recommends against taking the tablets at this time. Health officials also warned against ordering the products online.

Potassium iodide, a non-prescription drug that can be used to protect the thyroid gland from radiation exposure, can be harmful to people with allergies to iodine or shellfish and to those with thyroid problems, renal disease and certain skin disorders and chronic diseases.

Merz Apothecary pharmacist and co-owner Michael Winter said the Lincoln Square store started getting calls about the supplement on Saturday, and so ordered extra supplies. By 4 p.m. Wednesday, the store had sold out of its initial supply and sold all but 12 bottles of a 300-bottle order that had arrived four hours earlier. The supplements come in caplets and in liquid form, with the price ranging from $7.80 for a 60-capsule supply to $13 for 120 capsules.

“We have sold at least 400 bottles both in-store and online, in large and small quantities, and we could have sold another 400 to 500 if there had been enough inventory,” Winter said.

He said it’s impossible to reorder because manufacturers are running out of supplies due to the rush to buy.

The supplements contain far less potassium iodide than anyone who is exposed to radiation would take. Each capsule contains 225 micrograms, so it would take four to equal 1 milligram. People exposed to radiation are typically given doses of 130 milligrams a day, Winter said.

“I’d probably say we’ve had 30 to 40 people ask for it today,” said Katie Speh, general manager of Southtown Health Foods in Beverly. “I’d say some are panicked, some are like, ‘Just in case.’ ”

A spokeswoman at a GNC store downtown said customers are turning to a multi-vitamin that contains 150 micrograms per caplet of the potassium iodide supplement if they cannot find the supplement itself.

Walgreen and CVS drugstores do not sell the supplements.

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