Anyone who has ever tried to open a bottle of pills will have noticed a foil seal covering the contents of the container. Trying to pry it open can be aggravating, but that seal isn't there to annoy you, but to protect you. The foil seal on over-the-counter medicines was introduced after seven people died in Chicago from cyanide-laced Tylenol in 1982.
As a result of the murders, 31 million bottles of Tylenol were recalled nationwide by Johnson and Johnson. Around 1.5 million bottles were tested, with a total of ten found to have been laced with cyanide. The case remains unsolved, but much has been done to keep it from happening again. The FDA mandated the use of tamper-proof foil seals and established packaging requirements to help consumers recognize when a bottle has been tampered with. For their part, Tylenol introduced solid caplets instead of powder-filled capsules.
Investigators of the so-called “Tylenol Murders” concluded that cyanide was used based on how the medicine bottles smelled. Cyanide has a very pungent smell, described by some as similar to bitter almonds. It's a fast-acting poison that inhibits the body’s ability to utilize oxygen, leaving the heart and brain at risk.
More about the Tylenol Murders:
- The cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules were manufactured at two different locations – Pennsylvania and Texas – which alerted investigators that they had been tampered with sometime after the products were placed on store shelves.
- Following the Tylenol Murders in Chicago, hundreds of copycat attacks involving Tylenol and other over-the-counter medications took place around the United States.
- In 1983, Congress passed a bill making it a federal crime to tamper with medications and other consumer goods.