Radiation Fears Spark Fake Potassium Iodide Pills, Says FDA

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(CBS) As the Japanese government scrambles to provide potassium iodide pills to its population, the American government is warning about impostor pills here.

Potassium iodide is the quick fix to help prevent thyroid cancer after exposure to certain types of radiation. The Japanese, of course, are facing a mounting threat of radioactive material leaking from the Fukushima nuclear reactor, badly damaged in the massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

And although the American government says there is currently no radiation risk here, that hasn't stopped nervous Americans from buying all the potassium iodide they can find.

Some of it, according to the FDA, may not be real.

"The FDA is alerting consumers to be wary of Internet sites and other retail outlets promoting products making false claims to prevent or treat effects of radiation or products that are not FDA-approved," says a new warning on their website.

That list can include "dietary supplements, food items, or products purporting to be drugs, devices or vaccines."

Here's the FDA's full "look out" list.

  • 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; and,
  • claims that the product is "natural" or has fewer side effects than approved drugs.

The list of products that are approved by the FDA is pretty short.

FDA: Radiation Safety Guide

FDA: Drug Buyers Guide