Iodine tablet: nuclear, can you buy it in a pharmacy?

POTASSIUM IODIDE. US President Joe Biden has warned of a risk of 'nuclear apocalypse' in the war between Ukraine and Russia. For fear of such an accident, iodine tablets (potassium iodide) can be distributed to populations at risk of exposure.

[Updated October 7, 2022 at 09:50 a.m.] The American President, Joe Biden, warned of a risk of 'apocalypse' nuclear for the first time since the start of the war between Ukraine and Russia on Thursday, October 6, because of threats from Russian President Vladminir Putin. For fear of a nuclear accident -particularly with the conflict between Ukraine and Russia since the beginning of 2022- iodine tablets (potassium iodide) can be distributed to populations at risk of exposure to protect from irradiation . What is iodine used for in the event of a nuclear accident? Against the radioactivity ? What risks if we are exposed to radioactive iodine ? Can we buy freely ? In pharmacy ? Without arrangement ?

Why take iodine in case of nuclear attack?

In the event of a nuclear accident, radioactive iodine can be released and then can find oneself in the body , via the respiratory tract (by inhalation) or following the ingestion of contaminated liquids or food. However, the thyroid gland (located on the front of the neck) is capable of store iodine until saturation. If this gland fixes radioactive iodine, there is a increased risk of cancer of the thyroid. Therefore, in the event of a nuclear accident, and if radioactive iodine is released, authorities may recommend taking stable (non-radioactive) iodine, available as tablets potassium iodide , in order to protect the thyroid from radiation. Thus, this allows the thyroid to be saturated with stable iodine (via a dose of approximately 1000 times that required by the body daily) and consequently avoid the absorption of radioactive iodine. However, during a nuclear accident, different radioactive materials can be released. Stable iodine is therefore only useful when radioactive iodine is released, and stable iodine tablets do not offer no protection from others radioactive substances . Finally, iodine tablets should only be taken on the express recommendation of the competent authorities because the tablets ingested are not efficient than for a period of approx 24 hours and with full effect after 2 hours. It is therefore no need to take iodine tablets for prevention, consuming it without instructions being given by the authorities, which may on the contrary expose you to health risks. The recommendation to take shelter remains in parallel the most effective solution and which takes precedence over the intake of iodine.

Where to buy iodine tablets?

Stable iodine tablets 65 mg are manufactured by the Central Army Pharmacy . In France, stable iodine can be distributed free of charge by the competent authorities (example: by post) or by pharmacies, only to populations exposed to a nuclear risk that's to say located within 20 km of a nuclear power plant . As the delivery of these iodine tablets is regulated, it can only be done on presentation of proof of residence or a receipt receipt issued by the authorities. Stocks are limited and not all pharmacies have them at all times. For the population not affected by this regulatory procedure, it is nevertheless possible to obtain iodine tablets from pharmacies with sufficient stock and by paying for them. To note that to deal with a possible serious nuclear accident, the State has sufficient reserves to supply the entire population. In all cases, it is the prefect who gives the instructions for taking iodine , by all existing means allowing information to be disseminated (fire/police loudspeakers, sirens, television, radio, etc.).

  Photo of tablets d'iodure de potassium
Photo of potassium iodide tablets

Can I buy iodine tablets from pharmacies?

Only people living within a radius of 20 km around nuclear power plants can in principle collect iodine tablets from pharmacies, during distribution campaigns organized by the authorities or when they move into the municipality concerned, this under the responsibility of the prefects. Stocks are indeed limited and reserved as a priority for this population at risk. However, if supplies allow (orders via wholesalers), it is possible to buy iodine tablets freely from pharmacies that have them.

Are iodine tablets available without a prescription?

Potassium iodide is an unlisted drug that therefore does not require a medical prescription to be delivered. In France and for people or establishments located within a radius of 20 km around a nuclear power plant, boxes of stable iodine are provided free of charge and without a prescription by pharmacies in the sectors concerned, on simple presentation of proof of address and/or or by filling out a withdrawal form. For the others people (not affected by a nuclear risk particular), it is possible to obtain these tablets in pharmacies without a prescription, depending on available stocks and in them paying.

What are the effects of iodine on the body?

Stable iodine is a natural trace element absolutely necessary for our health. It enters into the composition of hormones produced by the thyroid gland, after fixing inhaled or ingested iodine on the latter. The hormones produced are secreted by the thyroid into the bloodstream and affect the metabolism of different organs. They play a vital role, particularly in growth and development. To function, the thyroid needs a small amount of natural iodine (on average 150 micrograms per day) which comes mainly from food, but also in a smaller proportion from the air we breathe (mainly present in maritime regions). In case of excess in the body, iodine is quickly removed through the urine.

Saturated with stable iodine, the thyroid gland is unable to fix radioactive iodine.

What is the effect of iodine against radioactivity?

Stable iodine tablets (potassium iodide) protect the thyroid gland against contamination radioactive . A serious event such as an accident or a nuclear attack can lead to the release of radioactive iodine into the atmosphere. Inhaled or ingested, this radioelement leads to the irradiation of the exposed population, thus putting them at significant risk of thyroid cancer . This is why to prevent the thyroid from fixing radioactive iodine, taking stable iodine in tablets and in large quantities (example: 2 tablets of 65 mg for an adult) is an effective means of prevention. Saturated with stable iodine, the thyroid gland is indeed unable to fix radioactive iodine, which protects individuals from possible thyroid cancer. Of the tablets containing stable iodine are distributed as a preventive measure to populations living near nuclear facilities . Stable iodine, on the other hand, offers no protection against other radioactive elements which may be released during an accident or nuclear attack .

What are the dangers of iodine tablets?

Iodine tablets may cause some Side effects like a metallic taste in the mouth, nausea and vomiting, upset stomach, diarrhea, skin rash, restlessness, and heart palpitations. In rare cases, ingestion of potassium iodide tablets may cause thyroid disorders such as hyperthyroidism manifesting itself by a increased heart rate, sweating, anxiety, insomnia, tremors or severe weight loss. These side effects are usually transient and not serious, and they disappear spontaneously once the iodine has been eliminated by the body. If the problem persists or if the condition worsens, however, it is imperative to consult a doctor. In a few exceptional cases, the absorption of iodine can lead to hypersensitivity reactions (redness, oedema, neck pain, lacrimal discharge, chills, swelling of the salivary glands, fever).

What is the price of iodine tablets in pharmacies?

The price of potassium iodide is included between 3.80 euros and 5 euros depending on the point of sale.

Are there any contraindications to taking iodine?

Contraindications to taking iodine tablets are exceptional. The risk of hypersensitivity reaction being relatively low, it does not constitute a strict contraindication to taking iodine tablets if necessary. A person allergic to iodine or having a thyroid pathology can however seek advice from their doctor as a precautionary measure, the risk associated with taking stable iodine tablets being assessed on a case-by-case basis.