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Women in Dismay Over o.b. Tampon Shortage


(CBS) Updated Dec. 28, 2010

NEW YORK - I have been a loyal user of o.b. Tampons for years. They're small, compact and don't require an applicator. With my heavy monthly flow, their o.b. Ultra variety was a godsend at the beginning of my periods, being the only tampon on the market that I've come across that could handle it.

Imagine my dismay when I read on the women's blog Jezebel in early November that o.b. had discontinued its Ultra tampons. I planned to raid drugstores to buy any remaining boxes of my preferred o.b. Ultra, but that proved fruitless when I discovered that every one of the four drugstores between my office and the subway station was completely out of ALL o.b. tampons, not just o.b. Ultra.

I quickly did a Google search once I returned home and found that the New York Times blogged about the shortage, and that it wasn't just the four drugstores near my office that were out of o.b. tampons, but that store shelves from San Diego to Boston are also missing o.b. tampons.

The shortage is reminiscent of when the Today Sponge was discontinued in 1995, forever immortalized in an episode of "Seinfeld" that year where Elaine frantically wanders New York in search of a pharmacy carrying the contraceptive device, only to find that most were sold out. Today put the product back on the U.S. market in 2005 after many delays.

Across the web, most online retailers that once sold o.b. are all out, and on eBay, an auction for four boxes of o.b. Ultra tampons closed at $142.50 after 31 bids - that's about $32.63 per box, approximately four times the average retail price of about $8 for a 40-pack. An auction for seven boxes goes for $120 to "buy it now". On o.b.'s website, a click on the "buy now" link brings you to the website with a message that reads that the page cannot be found.

Female loyalists of the product are outraged, creating online petitions and venting on Write the Company.

A spokesperson from o.b.'s parent company, McNeil-PPC, a unit of Johnson & Johnson, sent the following statement via e-mail:

"o.b. tampons experienced a temporary supply interruption that has resulted in some stores being out of stock. We are working hard to bring supply back in line with demand and expect these stores to be restocked soon. We apologize to o.b. customers who may have been inconvenienced."

Could the shortage possibly be related to cases of toxic shock syndrome, a potentially fatal illness sometimes caused by tampon use? I once witnessed a friend go through TSS after forgetting to remove a tampon. She could barely walk and ended up in the hopsital for a few a days. Thankfully, the F.D.A. regulates tampon production to prevent women from getting TSS.

The New York Times speculates that the disappearance could have been caused by a handful of consumer reports in the F.D.A. database, including one that read:

"Consumer saw her physician and was prescribed medication for a vaginal infection. After one day of treatment, a 'ball of tampon threads was released from the uterus,'" the report said. "The consumer reported that the physician suspected that the ball consisted of 'little pieces of tampon from over a period of time.' "

A spokeswoman for the F.D.A. told the New York Times that the agency was "not aware of any quality control or manufacturing issues with o.b. tampons."

The o.b. spokesperson was adamant that the company did not discontinue o.b. Ultra due to an adverse event related to the product when asked about the discontinuation of Ultra tampons:

"The Ultra product line was discontinued in late September. There have been no unusual reports of adverse events related to Ultra and the decision to discontinue was not based on any adverse events."

When asked about the reason for the discontinuation or if the Ultra product line would be back on the market, the spokesperson vaguely replied, "We have no further comments at this time."

While reports say that the lack of o.b. tampons and discontinuation of o.b. Ultra tampons are temporary, hopefully it won't take ten years to come back like it did with the Today Sponge. Whatever the reason is, until o.b. tampons reappear on drugstore shelves, I'm going to try to make my remaining o.b. tampons last.

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