The maker of the popular cold remedy Sudafed has announced a nationwide recall of the 12-hour decongestant capsules after federal officials said they believed two people had died and a third had become ill from taking cyanide-laced capsules.
The three victims, all from Washington state, were unrelated and lived in different towns in neighboring counties.
Officials of the Food and Drug Administration said yesterday that the victims had purchased the Sudafed in different stores.
One of two links found so far in the three poisonings was the code on the foil packs.
In all three cases, the code was the same: 8U2846.
In addition, the officials said, in each of the three cases the code on the foil packs did not match the code on the outer box.
FDA officials said they did not find evidence of tampering in the remaining capsules in each box.
But they said that in two of the cases the victims collapsed within minutes of taking the capsules.
In the third case, it was not clear how long before death that the capsule was taken.
FDA officials also said they found Sudafed and cyanide in the stomach contents of two victims. The third, a man, was cremated before the investigation began.
Investigators and the maker of Sudafed, Burroughs Wellcome Co., of Research Triangle Park, N.C., are treating the incidents as product tampering cases, like the one involving the deaths of seven people in Chicago during one week in 1982.
All of the Chicago victims had taken cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules.
As a result of that incident, the drug industry quickly, and voluntarily, redesigned their packages and capsules to make them more tamper-resistant.
No one was ever caught in the Chicago killings.
Even though the three victims in the latest case came from the same area, the company said yesterday that it had not been able to trace all the locations where shipments with the 8U2846 code were sent and, therefore, decided to order the nationwide recall.
The first case was reported to the FDA on Feb. 15, when a young woman in Tumwater, Wash., a suburb of Olympia, became ill after taking Sudafed.
Then, Friday afternoon, a doctor from Olympia sent an autopsy report to the FDA in Seattle showing that a 40-year-old woman from Tacoma had died of cyanide poisoning after taking Sudafed.
The report said the woman had died Feb. 11.
On Friday night, the agency notified local radio and television stations.
After one report, a woman from Lacey, Wash., whose husband suddenly collapsed after taking Sudafed on Feb. 17 and died the next day, called the police, FDA officials said.