Consumer Alert: CVS is pulling some of its most popular cold medicines — here are the likely ones going away

[anvplayer video=”5196552″ station=”998131″]

CVS made a big announcement that has left a lot of consumers scratching their heads. You may remember about a month ago, the FDA a told us the active ingredient in hundreds of cold medicines doesn’t work.  So now CVS is pulling those products from their shelves.

The ingredient that FDA says doesn’t work is called phenylephrine. And the CVS announcement was carefully worded. It said, “We are aware of the FDA Advisory Committee’s position on oral phenylephrine (PE) and will follow direction from the FDA to ensure products we sell comply with all laws and regulations.  We are removing a small number of oral decongestant products that contain phenylephrine as the only active ingredient from CVS Pharmacy stores but will continue offering many other oral cough and cold products to meet consumer needs.”

The key words are “the only active ingredient.” So I checked the National Institutes of Health website, Medline Plus, and I counted more than 250 drugs with phenylephrine. But there are only four currently on the market that have phenylephrine as the only active ingredient.

They are Children’s Sudafed PE Nasal Decongestant, PediaCare Children’s Decongestant, Sudafed PE Congestion and Suphedrine PE. All four of these drugs have other versions in which phenylephrine is not the only active ingredient, so they will likely remain on CVS shelves.

If we can trust the literal wording of that statement, those will likely be the only four pulled from the shelves. But I wanted CVS to be more specific. I wanted to know if they’re pulling all the drugs where phenylephrine is the only “cough and cold ingredient.” They won’t answer that question. Consider the fact that most cold medicines combine two or more drugs that treat colds, so those aren’t likely to be pulled.

But what about drugs that combine phenylephrine with a painkiller? That means folks buying that drug for an ailment like a sinus headache would be getting their pain treated but not their stuffy nose.

I found eight over-the-counter drugs where phenylephrine is the only cold medicine and it’s combined with a painkiller. They are Advil Congestion Relief, Alka-Seltzer Plus Sinus formula, Excedrine Sinus Headache, Notuss-PE, Sine-off Non-Drowsy, Sudafed-PE Pressure Pain, Tylenol Sinus Congestion Pain and Vicks DayQuil Sinex Daytime Sinus Relief.  Those could be on the CVS hit list as well, but despite my many emails, the company spokesperson wouldn’t confirm it.       

While the FDA said phenylephrine doesn’t work, it has not mandated the drugs be removed. So Walgreens says for now they’re keeping them on store shelves.

There are good alternatives to these drugs; for example, anything pseudoephedrine. Those drugs are behind your pharmacist’s counter because people were using them to make meth. If you have high blood pressure, doctors say you should try antihistamines like Zyrtec, Allegra and Claritin. Doctors say nasal sprays are also very effective.