NH urges iodide pills, but availability questionable

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State urges iodide pills, but availability questionable

MANCHESTER (AP) — Despite encouragement by state officials, pharmacies in New Hampshire have yet to stock the drug that would provide some protection against radiation in the event of a nuclear disaster.

But pharmacists throughout southern New Hampshire said it isn’t their fault. They said their suppliers list the potassium iodide tablets as available only to state and federal agencies, and the state hasn’t done anything to help them get it.

The availability of the pills has been an issue in New Hampshire since 1990, the year the Seabrook nuclear plant went online, and the state began stockpiling them in the event of an accident.

But the Sept. 11 attacks prompted fears of attacks against Seabrook, and the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant on New Hampshire’s western border. With that come fears the state’s supply of the pills, and its delivery system, are insufficient.

Potassium iodide works by saturating the thyroid with iodine, which protects it from the radioactive iodine that could be released in a nuclear accident.

But the state’s stockpile would be distributed during an emergency only to those who would have to work in or near the nuclear plant, or to those unable to leave the area, such as prisoners, nursing home residents and hospital patients.

And two years ago a study committee reported to Gov. Jeanne Shaheen that it would be "inappropriate and ineffective" for government agencies to distribute the tablets to the public during an emergency.

The reported suggested the state "encourage retail pharmaceutical outlets in New Hampshire to maintain supplies of KI (the chemical symbol for potassium iodide) for purchase by members of the public."

James Van Dongen, spokesman for the state Office of Emergency Management, said his agency thinks it’s good for people to maintain their own supply.

"The only problem is that people haven’t physically been able to lay their hands on it," he said. "We’ve been trying for two years to get pharmacies to stock this stuff as a public service."

He said last week he is sending lists of pharmacies in southern New Hampshire to two companies that make the pills, hoping they will contact the pharmacies.

But Jennifer Hicks, director of the Seacoast Anti-Pollution League, said the state isn’t doing enough.

"I don’t think the pharmacies have been given any real incentive to do this," she said. "We’re depending on a for-profit system to take care of a public health need."

And even with incentive, the pharmacists may still need government help getting the pills.

Donald Messina, president of the New Hampshire Pharmacists Association, said potassium iodide is essentially unavailable in New Hampshire.

"As far as we’re concerned, right now, there is no potassium iodide available," he said. "I checked the catalogs and I cannot come up with any potassium iodide tablets."

Several companies do offer the tablets to the public, but they are available only over the Internet and is not sold to drug wholesalers, the companies that supply pharmacies.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), October 29, 2001

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