Urban Outfitters Pulls Products That Look Like Prescription-Drug Bottles

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Screen Shot Urban Outfitters

A marketing strategy that exploits prescription-drug packaging comes to an end.

It’s hard to make beer coolers and coffee mugs stand out in a well-saturated market, so Urban Outfitters grabbed some attention for their versions by styling them after prescription-drug bottles. But after complaints that the packaging would lead to confusion and potential health hazards, the company decided to pull the products. The decision came after the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) and 57 local poison centers wrote an open letter last Monday asking the company to halt production of mugs, flasks and shot glasses designed to look like prescription pill bottles, arguing that they make light of prescription medications and the serious conditions they are designed to treat.

The products, like the coffee mug pictured, are covered with prescription labels and instructions such as: “RX#: VRY-CAF-N8D. Drink one mug by mouth, repeat until awake and alert.”

(MORE: More Adult Prescription-Drug Use Leads to Increased Poisonings in Kids)

The letter, written by AAPCC president Marsha Ford and executive director Debbie Carr, noted that in 2011, local poison centers managed 209,909 cases of exposures to painkillers in which the drugs were either misused or abused, meaning taken either on purpose for reasons other than prescribed or unintentionally. Of those, 21,752 were teens ages 13 to 19. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls the prescription-painkiller abuse in the U.S. a “public-health epidemic.” About 15,000 Americans die each year from prescription-painkiller-related overdoses.

After several days of deliberation, during which Urban Outfitters did not respond to media requests but took the concerns into consideration, a spokesperson of the company announced they are discontinuing the products:

In the 20,000 products that comprise our assortment, there are styles that represent humor, satire, and hyperbole. 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.

(MORE: Study: Internet Access May Increase Prescription-Drug Misuse)

In a written response to the company’s announcement, AAPCC commended Urban Outfitters for considering the safety of its customers: “Poison centers work very hard to prevent poisonings. Unfortunately, the pint glasses, flasks and shot glasses designed to look like prescription pill bottles made light of a very serious issue — prescription drug abuse and misuse. We thank Urban Outfitters for removing these products from their stores and websites.”

Ford says the AAPCC is pleased with Urban Outfitters’ decision to pull the products, since youths and adolescents — a demographic that purchases product from Urban Outfitters — may be especially vulnerable to prescription-drug abuse. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics traced the rise in prescription-drug use among U.S. adults to more poisonings among kids. The researchers of that study were particularly concerned by the growing trend since more children seem to be at risk despite efforts to raise awareness of the dangers, and they advise pediatricians to discuss with parents the best ways to keep prescription drugs away from kids of all ages.

(MORE: More Kids Accidentally Ingesting Marijuana Following New Drug Policies)

Even if shot glasses and coffee mugs aren’t targeted for young children, making sure that these products don’t make light of potent prescription drugs could help educate parents and children about the seriousness of medications and hopefully lower rates of accidental overdoses.