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GSK Tells BC and Goody’s to Take a Powder

After spending the first 21 years of life in New Jersey and Philadelphia, I ventured to the University of Florida for graduate school. For those who don’t know, UF is in the north-central Florida city of Gainesville – culturally much more like idyllic south Georgia than flashy south Florida.

It was in Gainesville – “Hogtown” to some – that I first encountered the analgesic powder. I believe it was BC Powder, first manufactured just over 100 years ago within a stone’s throw of the Durham, NC, baseball park made famous by the movie, Bull Durham. I remember sitting with my grad school buddy from Kansas City watching this TV commercial with hardy men possessing strong Southern accents enthusiastically espousing the benefits of BC. I looked at Roger – a registered pharmacist – and asked, “what in the hell is an analgesic powder?”

What I learned is that powders of analgesic compounds were one of the individual trademark products of Southern pharmacies during the early 1900s. Many of these powders became quite popular with mill and textile workers needing to calm headaches induced by long hot days with loud machinery. The original powders contained a precursor to acetaminophen called phenacetin. However, phenacetin was found to cause renal papillary necrosis, such as in this 1964 case report in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Today, most of these powders are comprised of aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine. This combination has also been adopted outside of the powder world with Excedrin’s migraine product the most popular of these. This 2010 review in the European Journal of Neurology covers the historical ground that tends to support the greater combined efficacy of this combination in headache and migraine than with monotherapy of any alone. However, I still have yet to find a convincing mechanistic explanation to account for the well-documented analgesic potentiation activity of caffeine.

Nevertheless, this combination as a powder is a cultural tradition of Southern pharmacy. Unfolding one of these packets in public in the northern US is a sure-fire way to attract suspicious eyes wondering if you are a cocaine addict. In the South, you either mix these with water and slam it back – the idea being that the powder form is absorbed more quickly than a tablet or capsule that needs to disintegrate in the gastrointestinal tract. However, the bitter taste of these compounds reminds me of why they were first formulated into tablets that had a very short residence time in the mouth.

In 1977, Goody’s powder became one of the first non-automotive sponsors of a NASCAR racer, beginning a long relationship with NC native and current resident, Richard Petty, a relationship that continues today. For fun, you have to read the page at Goody’s on how to take a powder:

How to take a powder
Let’s face it, Goody’s works incredibly fast because they’re powders, but that also means that they’re kind of different to take. There are three general approaches, but feel free to add your own personal touches.

The Dump and Chase
Probably the most popular technique. Open up the paper wrapper, fold it over, dump quickly on the back of your tongue and chase right down with your favorite drink. There, now that wasn’t so hard…

The Stir ‘N Sip
A technique preferred by the less adventurous. Just mix your Goody’s into a glass of water, juice or soda. Then drink up.

The Tough Guy
This is how The King does it. Very simple. Open it, fold, dump on your tongue and swallow. Then, very casually continue whatever you were doing.

How to take a powder tips

  • The farther back on your tongue, the better.
  • Fold wrapper so all the powder leaves the wrapper at once.
  • Don’t inhale through your mouth with powder in there. It could get ugly.
  • Beginners generally need a bit of coaching. Be gentle with them.
  • Got a great technique? Shoot us an email and we may share it here.

Yes, folks, The King (Petty, not Elvis) does The Tough Guy.

Guess what? I tried to do The Tough Guy. I think I ended up with an esophageal erosion.

But why do I write this post other than because I’m a natural products pharmacologist living in the South?

Late yesterday afternoon, I learned from Raleigh News & Observer business editor, Alan Wolf, that GlaxoSmithKline is jettisoning 19 of their consumer health products, including Goody’s and BC.

From Wolf’s post:

“Individually, the brands to be divested have strong heritage and good prospects, but GSK has lacked sufficient critical mass in some product categories and certain brands have lacked focus due to other global priorities,” GSK wrote in a statement. “GSK therefore believes that other companies are better placed to maximise the potential they offer.”

I actually hadn’t known that GSK owned both powder brands. But it now makes sense to me. As recently as last summer, there had been a “Pick A Powder” battle online (at pickapowder.com, surprisingly) between Goody’s Richard Petty and BC’s country singer, Trace Adkins. Clever marketing: take your own products and pit them against one another with a fabricated battle between two celebrities that appeal to distinct but overlapping demographic groups.

But this rivalry isn’t all fun and games. Petty’s team raises money for Victory Junction Camp, established in honor of his son, Adam, to provide enriching experiences for kids with chronic or serious illnesses; Adkins raises money for the Wounded Warrior Project, a comprehensive non-profit program that serves our brave men and women injured in combat.

Hopefully, the companies that pick up these colorful, historic powders of Southern pharmacy will keep the rivalry and public service going on.

But my recommendation to all: no need to be “adventurous.” There’s no shame in “The Stir ‘N Sip.”

For further reading, The North Carolina History Project has separate entries for Goody’s and B.C. powders.

Posted in: Humor, Pharmaceuticals, Science and Medicine

Leave a Comment (22) ↓

22 thoughts on “GSK Tells BC and Goody’s to Take a Powder

  1. Toiletman says:

    We have kind of powders in Germany,too, but they contain citric acid and a kind of sugar (or a replacement) to make them less disgusting. However, there is absolutely no image about “tough guys” associated with it here. It’s a plain analgesic ( you cannot buy any medical products outside a pharmacy here anyways).

  2. delaneypa says:

    Having worked still working in several NC hospitals, I can tell you we get 1-2 patients a week admitted for ulcers from BC and Goody’s. Good riddance!

  3. kvanh says:

    Excedrin Migraine and Excedrin Extra Strength are exactly the same product. Different pill shapes and packaging but the contents are the same.

  4. Epinephrine says:

    However, I still have yet to find a convincing mechanistic explanation to account for the well-documented analgesic potentiation activity of caffeine.

    I’m not sure that caffeine has any analgesic potentiation in general, only specifically relating to headache, where vasoconstriction of cerebral blood vessels may play a role.

  5. swoopy says:

    It might be worth noting that Goody’s powders have come in orange flavor for the last couple of years, you don’t have to put on a brave face to take them – they’re really tasty though I never found the unflavored variety difficult to take.

  6. GLaDOS says:

    Caffeine withdrawal causes headaches which can be relieved with caffeine.

  7. GLaDOS says:

    The wounded warrior web site looks sweet. I love me some kayaking and camping.

    A couple weeks ago I came across a pretty flaky New Age acupuncture trauma-centric counseling site claiming to be funded through grants earmarked for the wounded warrior project. Hmm. I will have to Google.

  8. Zetetic says:

    I’ve heard the “Take a powder” anachronism but didn’t realize that products like that were still on the market! I’m no NASCAR fan, I would much prefer European DTM!

  9. TsuDhoNimh says:

    Are they shutting them down, or selling them off?

  10. Josie says:

    GSK wrote in a statement. “GSK therefore believes that other companies are better placed to maximise the potential they offer.”

    Selling them from the looks of it.

  11. KB says:

    Someone who was in high school in the ’60s once told me a story about being at a party and witnessing someone snorting cocaine for the first time. She hadn’t heard of cocaine before that moment, so she thought he must have had a really, really bad headache and found a different way to take BC powder.

  12. That’s interesting. When I was a kid, my mom used to dissolve aspirin in a teaspoon of water before giving it to us for a fever. She said it worked quicker that way. I still remember the flavor.

    A little walk down memory lane.

    That is before Reye’s syndrome was known about, of course.

    Also, my dad who had migraines, used to swear by the aspirin and coffee combo when he felt a migraine coming on.

  13. JPZ says:

    As a born-and-raised Southerner, I always liked having BC Powder as an analgesic option. When I lived in the North, I would bring a box back with me when I traveled South. I thought it worked faster than pills (although I could have been fooling myself thinking about increased surface area and such). I guess I will start having to take a hammer to an Excedrin tablet. ;)

    And as for “tough guy” method, I don’t see that as any more disgusting than dry swallowing uncoated aspirin. Some people can do it and some can’t (or don’t want to) – nothing “tough guy” about it.

    @delaneypa

    How many ulcers a week did you see from aspirin tablet abuse? Do you feel patients were more likely to abuse BC Powder? Given the taste and higher cost of BC Powder, I would have thought it would be less likely to be abused.

  14. BillyJoe says:

    “That is before Reye’s syndrome was known about, of course.”

    Seems to me it’s more talked about than real.
    Have you ever heard of ANYONE with Reye’s Syndrome?
    I wonder what the incidence is.

  15. BillyJoe says:

    Oops, here it is:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reye's_syndrome

    ” In the United States between 1980 and 1997, the number of reported cases of Reye’s syndrome decreased from 555 cases in 1980 to about 2 cases per year since 1994.”

    The CDC issued a warning about the link between salicylates and Reye’s Syndrome in 1980.

    (So now I know why we don’t see it around much.)

  16. CLK says:

    You know, I absolutely LOOOVE the taste of aspirin. I haven’t tried it for years, but when I was a pre- teen I made myself ill because I couldn’t stop sneaking Bayer tablets and chewing them up. I would get cravings for it.
    Any thoughts about what the substance contained in the pills would have triggered that craving? Just thinking about it now has me wishing I had some on hand. Ever heard of that before?

  17. Toiletman says:

    There are some pills that contain a mixture of aspirin and codeine or tramadol. Maybe good old opioid addiction :D

  18. Elwood says:

    I get migraines occaisionally, and while in Japan last year I needed an over-the-counter (OC) remedy. Despite my very limited (homeopathic!) knowledge of Japanese, and the similarly limited English of the guy at the drug counter in the supermarket, I managed to buy a bottle of pills for my headache.

    They were AMAZING, and it turned out, they contained acetaminophen and caffeine. AFAIK acetaminophen is not a common OC drug in Australia – we mainly have paracetamol and ibuprofen, although perhaps I’m not looking hard enough – but the addition of caffeine now means I’m more likely than not to have a cup of coffee with my migraine-lite meds.

    kvanh,
    Marketers play a significant role in OC drug packaging. There is a line of drugs sold here with the active ingredient ibupfofen lysine, for Tension Headache, Migraine Pain, Back Pain, Period Pain. The four products are clearly different in packaging but containg the same ingredients.

  19. Roadstergal says:

    “AFAIK acetaminophen is not a common OC drug in Australia – we mainly have paracetamol and ibuprofen”

    I thought paracetamol is what they call acetaminophen outside of the US?

  20. Calli Arcale says:

    Yep — paracetamol is acetaminophen. It’s one of several drugs that have different names in different countries. My rescue inhaler is another — I use albuterol, but in other countries it is called salbutamol.

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