Urban Outfitters halts prescription-themed products

Posted at 10:12 AM, Jun 14, 2013

(CNN) — The coffee mug is covered in a prescription label, with the RX#: VRY-CAF-N8D.

“Drink one mug by mouth, repeat until awake and alert,” the instructions read.

The mug is one of several Urban Outfitters prescription-themed products that have come under fire recently from safety advocates who say the items promote the misuse and abuse of painkillers.

“In the 20,000 products that comprise our assortment, there are styles that represent humor, satire, and hyperbole,” Urban Outfitters said in a statement. “In this extensive range of product we recognize that from time to time there may be individual items that are misinterpreted by people who are not our customer. As a result of this misinterpretation we are electing to discontinue these few styles from our current product offering.”

The move comes after several groups sent letters to the retailer asking it to stop selling the prescription line.

On Monday, Marsha Ford, president of the American Association of Poison Control Centers, wrote to Urban Outfitter CEO Richard Hayne on behalf of her organization.

“Local poison centers experts know firsthand the dangers of medicine abuse and misuse. In 2011, they managed 209,909 cases of exposures to painkillers. Of those, 21,752 were teens ages 13 to 19,” the letter said. “Products such as these minimize the dangers of medicine abuse and misuse and are very dangerous.”

Ford’s letter followed an earlier one sent by the attorneys general of 22 states and Guam that also urged Urban Outfitters to cease sales of glasses, coasters, mugs, drink holders and other prescription-related products.

“There is a national health crisis related to the abuse and diversion of prescription drugs,” the chief legal officers wrote. “We are actively engaged in a campaign of environmental change to educate the public that abuse of prescription drugs is not safe simply because the medication originated from a doctor. By putting these highly recognizable labels on your products, you are undermining our efforts.”

One person dies from a drug overdose every 19 minutes in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; about half of those deaths involve prescription painkillers. In fact, accidental overdoses have surpassed car crashes as a leading cause of American accidental deaths.

One doctor described it to Dr. Sanjay Gupta as the biggest man-made epidemic in the United States.

“Distribution of morphine, the main ingredient in popular painkillers, increased 600% from 1997-2007,” Gupta later wrote in an op-ed for CNN. “In the United States, we now prescribe enough pain pills to give every man, woman and child one every four hours, around the clock, for three weeks.”

CNN’s Maxwell Newfield contributed to this report.

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