US Stockpiling Drug
For Nuclear Accidents

By Alicia Ault

WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) - The US federal government said Thursday it has begun stockpiling the anti-radiation drug potassium iodide as a precaution in case of terrorist attacks against nuclear facilities or attacks involving so-called ''dirty'' bombs.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has already bought 1.6 million doses of potassium iodide, which helps protect an individual from thyroid cancer if they have been exposed to radiation. The drug is being added to the ``push packs'' that are part of the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile, Bill Pierce, HHS spokesman told Reuters Health.
HHS plans to purchase 5 to 10 million more doses this year, said Pierce, who added that the likely sources will be Anbex and Wallace Laboratories, the only two companies who have potassium iodide products approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Currently, there are eight push packs located in the US, and Congress has recently passed legislation authorizing the establishment of four more. The packs, which contain medical supplies for a response to a nuclear, chemical or biological attack, are located so that they can be delivered anywhere in the country within 12 hours.
According to a lengthy story in the Washington Post on December 31, the federal government pledged to create a stockpile of potassium iodide shortly after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979. When given after radiation exposure, potassium iodide blocks the thyroid's uptake of the deadly isotopes and prevents cancer.
In mid-December, the FDA issued guidelines on how best to use the drug in case of a nuclear emergency, saying that data from the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Russia in 1986 had shown it was useful in preventing thyroid cancer, especially in young children.
Shortly thereafter, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Agency said it would provide potassium iodide to states that wanted to stockpile the drug. Alabama, Arizona, and Tennessee had already begun stockpiling it with their own funds.
The HHS stockpile will be separate from those state supplies, said Pierce. In the case of an accident or emergency, the HHS secretary makes the decision on whether to access the national stockpiles, he said.

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