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Analgesic Powder: A Southern Cultural Tradition Being Discontinued By GSK?

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. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

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