o.b. tampons

RECENT POSTS

Back Next Year By Popular Demand: O.B. Ultras

“Back by popular demand” is an overused term, but it’s right on target this time. There were a whole lot of women who used the o.b. tampon “Ultra” size for its high-flow absorbency, and when o.b.s became mysteriously scarce late last year, and the o.b. Ultra was discontinued altogether, they made a whole lot of very public requests that the Ultra be brought back.

There is an “I want my o.b. ultras” page on Facebook, and this Website gathered more than 1500 signatures on a petition asking that the Ultra be restored. Some of the comments here on CommonHealth were heartbreaking, including concerns from women who feared they might not be able to leave the house during heavy-flow periods.

So, though I get no kickbacks from Johnson & Johnson, the maker of o.b.s, I do think it’s glad tidings that the company says it expects to get the Ultra back on the market in the second half of next year. I’d contacted them about the hilarious personal apology song they’ve posted to o.b. users, and spokeswoman Jodie Wertheim replied:

We’re glad you like the personal apology. What prompted it was our commitment to listen to the needs of our consumers and to reiterate how sorry we are for the out of stock issues we experienced this year. It’s our way of letting them know how much we value them and appreciate their support. Along the same lines, we are also in the process of re-launching o.b.® Ultra and expect to begin shipping the product in the second half of 2012.

Ever mystified, I asked if she could clarify why they were discontinued in the first place. She emailed: Continue reading

O.B. Tampon Makers Apologize To You — In Song

From the personalized o.b. apology video

Click here. Please. The makers of o.b. tampons, which have been scarce lately in many drugstores around the country, have just issued the most incredibly hilarious and technologically sophisticated corporate apology in the history of marketing.
Just type in your name, (even if it’s male — we checked!) and you’ll be serenaded by an anonymous heartthrob with your name tattooed on his arm. Skywriting, rose petals, a flock of doves — all are directed at nothing more than to make sure you, personally, know just how sorry the o.b. brand is to have let you down…

O.B. Quest: Is It Getting Better? One Writer’s Tale

Writer Robin Rouse's o.b. stash, thanks to her daughter

The latest on the epic quest for o.b. tampons: I just checked in with Johnson & Johnson, the tampons’ maker, and they offer the following update. (Readers, what’s your experience? Are you finding them back on the shelves?)

We are pleased to confirm that o.b.® tampons are increasingly in-stock at more stores nationwide as well as through on-line retailers such as: Amazon.com, drugstore.com, soap.com. Please note that o.b.® Ultra tampons have been discontinued.

Supply may continue to vary in your area, however retailers who have received product include:
Acme, Albertsons, CVS, Cub, Duane Reade, Fred Meyer, Giant Eagle, Giant Food Stores, HE Butt, Jewel-Osco, Kroger, Lucky, Meijer, Publix, Rite Aid, Safeway, Sav-a-Lot, Shaw’s/Star Markets, Shoppers, Shoprite, Inc., Stop & Shop, Target, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Wegman’s and other regional retailers.

In recent days, accounts of failed searches have continued to roll in to us here at CommonHealth. One of the best o.b. quest tales came from local writer Robin Rouse, who describes a case of true filial devotion:


Apparently, o.b. Tampons are the crack cocaine of menstruation. I came to that conclusion the same way I realize all my addictions: when I am without. For reasons that I will spare you, these are the only brand of tampons I can use. And while I’ve watched my particular size and style disappear off the shelves over the years, it never occurred to me the whole brand could just — poof – disappear.

It really took me quite a while to catch on. I didn’t panic when the first store was out. I figured they were just really bad at restocking. I calmly drove to the next store, and then the next, and then the next. By my sixth store, I was breaking out in a cold sweat and starting to suspect some kind of conspiracy.

My immediate reaction: Go home and Google it! Sure enough, there they were – the cold hard facts that eluded me before my fruitless pursuit: the company had temporarily stopped production. There really was a shortage! And the worst of it was women were hoarding. But because I had missed the story, I had missed out on the hoarding window! I was completely unprepared for o.b. tampon Armageddon.

Now my mission was clear – somewhere, there must be a secret cache, and I needed to find it. Perhaps a small store off the beaten path that had been missed by the throngs of desperate women and now, the like legendary treasure found at a weekend flea market, I would find it and have my fix. Continue reading

Johnson & Johnson’s Woes Go Far Beyond O.B. Tampon Shortage


Now that I’ve read this excellent New York Times piece on the big picture at Johnson & Johnson, I feel even more gratitude to their spokesperson for getting back to us repeatedly about the o.b. tampon shortage. I also feel sympathy for her; I wouldn’t want her job.

To sum up the long article, Johnson & Johnson sounds like it’s something of a general mess, with 288 million items recalled last year, including bottles of Tylenol, Motrin and Benadryl. The weird o.b. situation — sudden shortages around the country with no explanation from the company beyond “production problems” — appears par for the course.

Johnson & Johnson has had to recall such a variety of products because of quality-control problems across product lines, in multiple factories and in several units last year. Some of its consumer products, for instance, may have contained bits of metal. Others came in bottles with a moldy smell. And some products have gone missing from stores with hardly an explanation. All of this has put the company and its manufacturing under the intense scrutiny of lawmakers and officials at the Food and Drug Administration.

“It looks like a plane spinning out of control,” says David Vinjamuri, a former J.& J. marketing employee who now trains brand managers at his company, ThirdWay Brand Trainers.

And about the o.b. mystery: no further light is cast, but at least it bears a mention:

What is most perplexing is the seeming inability of executives to solve — and satisfactorily explain — the manufacturing issues that dog the company. Federal regulators have continued to fault the McNeil unit for failing to identify and address systemic problems at its plants, and consumers remain mystified about why simple products like O.B. tampons can disappear from drugstore shelves.

Update: O.b. Tampons Shipping To Stores Again

Many thanks to CommonHealth commenter Rebecca44678 for pointing this out:
As of yesterday, an official o.b. page on Facebook here says that the tampons have started shipping again. To wit:

mighty. small.™ movement. We see your comments, and are happy to report that o.b. tampons are shipping again! It may take a few days or weeks to reach your area, but we’re working with retailers to restock store shelves as fast as we can. We’ll keep you posted.

I checked with Johnson & Johnson spokesperson Bonnie Jacobs and she confirmed that the page was correct. So it does look like the shortage will end soon, but that may not end the ire it caused — nor the curiosity about what really happened. And it still appears that the Ultra size has been discontinued.

Notes one Facebook commenter “…An explanation as to why everything disappeared (beyond having “production issues” which doesn’t tell us anything) would be nice. If there are issues with the product, I think we, as your loyal consumers, deserve a straight answer and explanation.”

CommonHealth will continue to inquire — all leads welcome!

Toxic Shock Expert On O.B. Tampon Shortage

A photo from 2008, when o.b.s were still plentiful

I checked back in with Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman Bonnie Jacobs this week to ask if she had any news on the o.b. tampon shortage. No, she messaged: “I don’t have any updates to the information I provided.” (See her previous statement here; she cites a “supply interruption” and says that the decision to discontinue the Ultra size was not based on any adverse events.)

All well and good, but frustrated reports of empty o.b. shelves continue to roll in to CommonHealth from as far away as Iceland, and to be honest, I’m now just ragingly curious. Why can Johnson & Johnson not just tell their clamoring would-be customers exactly what went wrong with o.b. production? And why not disclose their reasons for doing away with the Ultra, which has long been a mainstay for women with heavy periods?

One theory bandied about in our comments is that perhaps the Ultras, or o.b.s in general, have been linked to recent cases of toxic shock, a rare but potentially deadly syndrome that can be triggered by tampon use. To check on that, I spoke today with the microbiologist known for helping to crack the mystery of toxic shock syndrome back in the 1980s.

Dr. Philip M. Tierno Jr. is director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University Langone Medical Center, and author of the “The Secret Life of Germs.” He has been involved in work on toxic shock syndrome for thirty years, and speaking with him for just a few minutes is enough to convert any tampon-user to the all-cotton products sold in health food stores. Or pads. Or cups. The point is, toxic shock, though rare, still happens. Young women still die, or need limbs amputated, he said.

But first, the o.b. question. I laid out the picture of the shortage, including J&J’s report of supply interruptions, and asked what light he could shed.

“I have no idea what their production problem is,” Dr. Tierno said. “Certainly there is some sort of production problem, that’s clear. I know that tampons are made primarily of viscose rayon; sometimes they may have mixes of cotton. And what I know is that the Chinese and other producers of cotton have had difficulty with crops. So this may play some role, if they’re mixing with a specific amount. And the only other thing I can tell you is that all of the extant tampons on the [mainstream] market are made with the synthetic ingredient viscose rayon, in mixes with or without cotton, and all of these extant tampons are able to produce TSST1 toxin [which has been implicated in toxic shock syndrome]. In my studies I have clearly shown that, albeit viscose rayon is the best of the bad four ingredients in tampons and the other three have been removed, this still remains, and toxic shock still occurs in this country, and deaths also occur in this country.”

[See this story on a 20-year-old Indiana woman who died of toxic shock syndrome this summer.]

How many people are dying? I asked. A handful a year? Continue reading

Johnson & Johnson: O.B. Tampons Back On Shelves Within Weeks

The shortage of o.b. tampons may soon be over.

The long, harsh season without o.b. tampons on drugstore shelves may soon come to an end.

Bonnie Jacobs, a spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson, owner of the division that makes the applicator-free tampons, says in an email message: “We expect stores to be restocked in a matter of weeks.”

Ms. Jacobs wouldn’t answer specific questions about the shortage, nor whether there were any safety concerns about o.b.s. She referred to the following statement, printed here in its entirety:

o.b. tampons experienced a temporary supply interruption that has resulted in some stores being out of stock. We are working hard to bring supply back in line with demand, and expect these stores to be restocked soon. We apologize to o.b. customers who may have been inconvenienced.

The Ultra product line was discontinued in late September. There have been no unusual reports of adverse events related to Ultra and the decision to discontinue was not based on any adverse events.

NYT Weighs In On O.B. Tampon Mystery

Missing In Action: o.b. tampons

The Case Of The Disappearing O.B. Tampons continues with The New York Times running a piece on its Prescriptions blog about the stubby, applicator-free tampons missing from store shelves nationwide. (And, while we’re discovering more than we ever cared to about tampons, did anyone else know that a German gynecologist named Dr. Judith Esser named the original product o.b., which stands for “ohne binde” in German: “without napkins?”)

Anyway, since my co-blogger, Carey Goldberg, first wrote about the case last week, comments from frustrated o.b. users continue to deluge our site. “Hell hath no fury like a bunch of menstruating women who can’t find their preferred supplies,” wrote “jerked around in CA.”

The story is not going away until women like “jerked around” get some answers.

The Times did get an answer from Johnson & Johnson (though not a very satisfying one).

Here’s what the company said:

Bonnie Jacobs, a spokeswoman for McNeil [which is owned by J&J] said that the company had discontinued the ultra line but that other o.b. products should be available soon.

“o.b. tampons experienced a temporary supply interruption that has resulted in some stores being out of stock,” Ms. Jacobs wrote in an e-mail message. “We are working hard to bring supply back in line with demand and expect these stores to be restocked soon. We apologize to o.b. customers who may have been inconvenienced.”

Ms. Jacobs did not elaborate on what caused the “temporary supply interruption.”

Prescriptions also posed a series of followup questions to Ms. Jacobs about possible manufacturing problems related to o.b. tampons and whether consumers have raised health concerns (flashbacks to toxic shock syndrome? ) about the now-unavailable tampons.

We’ll let you know when, and if, J&J responds.

O.b. Mystery Deepens: FDA Says No Reports Of Quality Problems

An o.b. stockpile


Latest o.b. update: no quality issues reported, says the FDA:

“We’re not aware of any manufacturing or any quality control issues with o.b. tampons,” said Erica Jefferson, an FDA spokeswoman on medical devices. ”If there were any quality issues with the product, the company would need to notify FDA. If there is a shortage of another nature, you’d need to discuss that further with the company.”

Still hoping for a call back from Johnson & Johnson, and will try them again soon. Other calls also in the works.

Here’s what one commenter heard from the consumer line:

They have in the past two months discontinued the “ultra” o.b. tampon. The lack of other o.b. tampons on store shelves is due to “a manufacturer issue with production and packaging.” The product is expected to be back on shelves “sometime in 2011.” So, I queried, that it could be September 2011 or February 2011 or December 2011? I was told that it would probably be Spring 2011.

Meanwhile, this from the friend who put me onto this in the first place:

I e-mailed J&J customer service last week, and they got back to me last
night with this lame form letter, telling me all the places I can buy OB
Tampons. Of course, NONE of these places actually have the product.

Thank you for contacting the Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies
Information Center. It is always important to hear from our consumers and
we appreciate the time you have taken to contact us. Our tampons are still
being made. However, it is our o.b.® Ultra Absorbency Tampons that has been
discontinued. Please be assured we will share your feedback with our
marketing management.

Johnson & Johnson products are sold at mass merchandisers, grocery stores
and pharmacies. A partial list of the nationwide chain stores in which our
products are sold include Walgreen’s, Longs, Sav-On, Rite-Aid, CVS,
Eckerd’s, Phar Mor, Drug Emporium, Duane Reade, Kroger’s, Safeway, Giant,
Pathmark, Albertson’s, Winn Dixie, Publix, Wegman’s, Brooks, Fred Meyers,
Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target, Shopko, Shoprite and Meijer’s. You will find that
Johnson & Johnson products are generally shelved together by product
category. If you do not see the product you are seeking, a retailer may
sometimes be able to order it for you. Please note that we do not sell our
products to consumers on a direct basis.

Other alternatives by which you may purchase our products include numerous
mail order and on-line retailers. The following are some recommended
sources: Continue reading

O.b. Update: No Official Word Yet, But Laments Nationwide

An update on the Great Tampon Mystery of the suddenly non-existent o.b.’s (Please see the first post here, and post your comments at the bottom of it so we keep them all in one place):

I called the Johnson & Johnson communications person who handles the o.b. brand again today and left another message. Still no call-back. The FDA spokeswoman on medical devices says she’s still trying to track down the appropriate expert, and will keep us posted as quickly as possible.

That’s it on the official news. But unofficially, there’s been an outpouring of responses to the first post from o.b.-seekers around the country. Several were happy to read official news about the o.b. disappearance because their fruitless searches made them feel somehow that they must be going crazy. (Ah, our tendency to self-blame!!)

Commenters report empty o.b. shelves from upper New York state to Canada to San Diego. One Californian has even put up a Website (it’s here) asking fans of the o.b. Ultra (which has been officially discontinued, unlike the other sizes) to sign a petition and pressure Johnson & Johnson to bring the Ultra back.

This from Canada:

I am from Ottawa, Canada and have noticed the shortage in a number of our stores. Luckily, I live close to a number of small rural towns and was able to wing out to one of their grocery stores and clear out their stock (which was not much!). I ended up with about 70$ in tampons and a decidedly confused cashier.

This from San Diego:

I was wondering what was going on. I’ve been to several different stores and even on Amazon. NO one has any! I’m about to buy them on Ebay if I have to. They are the only thing I use. I tried others and they were awful. I hope this gets sorted out!

This from Washington, DC:

I thought I was slowly going mad, hallucinating that these things once existed after not being able to find them at Target, CVS et al. I blamed it on supply-chain issues, since many shelves in the city are bare compared to the abundance of the suburbs, but I just saw this post on my sidebar and almost dropped my laptop out of shock. Thank you for looking in to this!

This from Colorado:

No OBs in Colorado either. Just a small mountain town grocery store had them. My husband thought three boxes on Ebay (40/box) for $75 may be a good deal. Ha, ha. I checked Alabama while visiting – none there either. I gave up on applicators when they would show up on the Lake Michigan beach shore line (where I am originally from), it’s just gross.

And another from San Diego:

I’m in San Diego and I’m livid! This is the first news coverage I’ve seen about this issue. If it were a viagra shortage, there would be riots in the street. I too have written to Johnson and Johnson. Accroding to blogs, some women are starting a letter writing campaign, buying tampons from England (Lil-lets), and even boycotting Johnson and Johnson. The company really did handle this badly. I’ve never used any other brand but now I’m joining the England contingent.