Potassium iodide (KI) is used to treat those who have been directly exposed to excessive amounts of radiation. If taken quickly enough after exposure, KI can block radiation from settling in the thyroid and spurring the onset of thyroid cancers.
However, it is ineffective in preventing radioactivity from affecting other parts of the body, such as the blood-producing cells in the bone marrow, and it does not protect against harm from other radioactive isotopes, such as cesium, which is also being released from the Fukushima plant in Japan.
The FDA has recommended that people living in the US not take KI doses, seeing as how the chances of radiation sweeping across the Pacific are minuscule, but despite this, there has been a huge demand for KI products. Many online outlets who sell the drug have run out of their supply.
This, naturally, has opened the doors for counterfeit drug makers to capitalize on the fear of consumers and infuse the market with fake KI pills.
“We’re alerting consumers to be wary of products that falsely claim to prevent radiation and protect consumers, or are not FDA-approved,” an FDA spokesperson said.
The FDA has approved only three KI products: iosat tablets (made by Anbex), ThyroSafe tablets (made by Recipharm AB) and ThyroShield solution (from Fleming & Company Pharmaceuticals). These products can only protect against radioactive iodine.
For other types of exposure, the agency has approved products that can help the body eliminate radioactive elements more quickly, such as calcium-CTPA and zinc DTPA or Prussian blue capsules.
The FDA does not recommend that consumers stockpile KI, because there currently appears to be no risk that anyone in the US is at risk of radiation exposure from Fukushima. They also warn that taking the KI pills can come with side effects, which can include aggravating existing thyroid conditions and skin lesions.
Agency officials suggest that consumers be on the lookout for websites or marketing claims that may be advertising counterfeit KI products. Here’s what the agency says to look out for –
claims that a product not approved by FDA can prevent or treat the harmful effects of radiation exposure;
suggestions that a potassium iodide product will treat conditions other than those for which it is approved, i.e., KI floods the thyroid with non-radioactive iodine and prevents the uptake of the radioactive molecules, which are subsequently excreted in the urine;
promotions using words such as “scientific breakthrough,” “new products,” “miraculous cure,” ”secret ingredient,” and ”ancient remedy”;
testimonials by consumers or doctors claiming amazing results;
limited availability and advance payment requirements;
promises of no-risk, money-back guarantees;
promises of an “easy” fix;
claims that the product is “natural” or has fewer side effects than approved drugs.