Migraine Sufferers Scramble for Relief After Excedrin Recall

It was about six months ago when Erin Terjesen opened up her medicine cabinet and realized, to her horror, that she was out of the medication she relied on to keep her headaches from turning into full-blown migraines.

A few minutes later, she stumbled into her pharmacy to search for the medication -- Excedrin Migraine -- but learned there was none in stock.

Her pharmacist told her that the manufacturer, Novartis, had announced a massive recall of its Excedrin, No-Doz, Bufferin and Gas-X products on Jan. 8.

Six months later, store shelves are still Excedrin-free. Novartis attributed the recall to problems at its Nebraska plant that could have led to contamination by other medications produced there.

In a statement, Novartis said it was "working very hard to return products to store shelves." The company plans to restart production on a "line-by-line, product-by-product basis" to assure quality, and hopes to start restocking some products in the second half of the year.

There is no word yet on which of the recalled products will be manufactured first.

"The pharmacist recommended the store brand, but it made me super sick," Terjesen said. "I wasn't sure if I got sick because the migraine was so advanced and the nausea was part of it, but I took it a few other times after that and it just doesn't work for me."

She's tried prescription medications that also don't work. She does still take the generic brand, keeps caffeinated soda on hand and also tries nonmedical remedies such as keeping her feet elevated and using a wet towel over her eyes and head, but nothing works as well as Excedrin Migraine did.

"I haven't found another medication that works, and I just kind of try to treat the symptoms," she said. "I'm not sure what to do now when my headaches come back."

And others feel the same. Many migraine sufferers swear by their Excedrin Migraine. Some openly pine for it on Twitter and Facebook. Others are turning to eBay to scoop up whatever stock is available at hugely inflated prices. One recent auction of 50 tablets had a high bid of $60. Another seller is offering a dispenser of 100 tablets for $150.

Susan Scranton is one of the buyers who turned to eBay after learning of the recall in January. When the product first hit the auction site, she purchased about $500 worth of it.

"I went into panic mode after I found out about the recall," she said. "It's the only thing that ever helps any of my headaches."

Doctors warn about purchasing medication from eBay, since there are no guarantees about its safety.

"These medications are being passed on by private individuals, and there's no control over where that particular medication has been or if there's been tampering," said Dr. Charles Flippen, a professor of medicine at UCLA's Geffen School of Medicine.

Scranton was aware of of the risks, but said she did what was necessary to get relief.

"People asked me about it, but I didn't really care. Sometimes, my headaches are so bad and it's the only thing that works for me."

Experts who specialize in headache treatment say there are few nonprescription medication choices available, but there are some alternatives that may work for some people.

One Excedrin Migraine pill consists of 250 milligrams of aspirin, 250 milligrams of acetaminophen (Tylenol) and 65 milligrams of caffeine. A generic substitute could work just as well.

"If it has the same amount of aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine, the ingredients in Excedrin, it should work just as well," said Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' Chief Health and Medical Editor.

The generic store-brand alternatives work for some people, but not for others.

Dr. Joel Saper, founder and director of the Michigan Headache and Neurological Institute, said it may also help to simultaneously take each of separate ingredients in approximately the same doses as what's contained an Excedrin Migraine pill -- 250 milligrams of aspirin, 250 milligrams of acetaminophen (Tylenol) and 65 milligrams of coffee (the equivalent of about one cup of coffee).

But taking the ingredients separately doesn't work for everyone, either.

"Excedrin has been studied and found to be very effective, and there's something about that combination that for certain people is very specific for them as far as pain relief," said Flippen.

Using a the combination of medications may also be inconvenient, he said, because it involves taking multiple pills.

Other over-the-counter options include other medicines such as ibuprofen or naproxen, but they also don't work for everyone.

"Migraine is a spectrum. Some people have mild to moderate headaches, and others have moderate to severe, and over-the-counter medicines help a percentage of migraine patients who have mild headaches."

While Excedrin certainly works for many people, Saper warned against its overuse.

"You have to be careful with these drugs. You can get trapped in them. "It's not addictive by its components, but in some cases, the more you take it, the more headaches you have, then the more you take and it may start to actually drive the headaches."

For Terjesen, it's been a long wait that she hopes is over soon.

"I am very eager to try to get back on it or at least have the option," she said. "It was a game changer for me."