In late September 1982, a 12-year-old girl in suburban Chicago took a Tylenol capsule because she had a sore throat and runny nose. Within hours, she was dead — the first of seven people to die when someone added cyanide to packages of the popular pain reliever and returned the packages to store shelves.
The case now known as the Tylenol Murders changed the way over-the-counter medication is handled and packaged.
Still unsolved, the 40th anniversary of the murders is getting increased attention, including a special podcast released by the Chicago Tribune.
Parent company Johnson & Johnson has been the focus of many business studies showing how its proactive approach saved lives and its reputation, but the packaging community also was a big part of the story, joining forces to add seals, tapes, glue and other elements to keep people from tampering with Tylenol and other products.
You can find a digital archived copy of a 1983 story from the New York Times highlighting the efforts, with inside information from packaging supplier Paco Pharmaceutical Services Inc. on how it worked with companies such as 3M to adapt its seal systems for the new bottles. Those changes had to come online even as Paco shut down six plants producing existing packaging — with all equipment isolated to ensure there wasn't a problem from within manufacturing — and both finding and opening a new facility to take over the business.
Within five weeks, the new bottles were in production.
"The cooperation was remarkable," Claude S. Breeden Jr., then-executive director of the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute, said in the 1983 NYTimes story.
Credit to Editor Don Loepp for finding that archived story. Definitely check it out. You may be hearing more about the Tylenol Murders right now, but the packaging story definitely deserves attention, too.