Monday, February 25, 2002

Spokane

Nicotine-laced suckers help smokers quit a lick at a time
Innovators: Pharmacists' pops ease cravings with 27 flavors

Carla Johnson
Staff writer

photo
Dan Pelle - The Spokesman-Review
Shawn and Janet Needham of Moses Lake are making nicotine lollipops to help smokers lick the habit.

MOSES LAKE _ Call it licking the habit.

TV detective Kojak tried to quit smoking by sucking lollipops. Now, local pharmacists have improved on the idea by lacing suckers with nicotine.

The sugar-free lollipops are made here by husband-and-wife pharmacists Shawn and Janet Needham.

There are three strengths: 2, 4 and 8 milligrams of nicotine salicylate. Light smokers try the weakest concentration first; heavy smokers go for the big guns.

The Needhams make the lollipops in 27 flavors. Cinnamon is most popular, then cherry. The pops make some people's tongues tingle, but otherwise they taste like candy.

"We do a good job of flavoring and masking any taste of the drug," said Shawn Needham, who with his wife owns Moses Lake Professional Pharmacy.

Nicotine gums and nicotine patches made by the big drug companies allow smokers to gradually wean themselves from addiction. The lollipops do, too, with added advantages.

A smoker can take a fe
w licks, then put the pop back into its plastic sleeve until the urge strikes again. The lollipops also satisfy smokers' craving for hand-mouth stimulation.

The method is working for Coulee City fishing guide Gordon Steinmetz, who in two weeks has cut down from two packs of cigarettes a day to half a pack.

"I've tried the patch. I've been hypnotized. Nothing worked, but this is working for me," Steinmetz said. "Still, you've got to want to quit."

Unlike most pharmacists these days, the Needhams do a lot of what's known in the business as "compounding." That means they practice the art of making medicines from formulas.

They can tailor a hormone replacement pill to an individual's needs, for example. They can formulate medicines that big drug makers have decided are no longer profitable.

About one-fourth of their compounding work is for veterinarians. That explains a jar of peanut butter on the shelf in their lab. It's their secret ingredient when they concoct yummy medicine for pampered dogs.

They heard about the nicotine lollipops at a professional conference, and are so far the only Washington pharmacists to seek authority to prescribe them.

The inventor, according to others making the lollipops, is Eric Holgate, an Augusta, Ga., pharmacist.

Holgate heard about dentists using lollipops containing a topical anesthetic.

Inspiration struck.

"I'm driving down the road, listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio. He was talking about smoking legislation. And I thought, `Now nicotine in lollipops. That makes sense."'

Holgate experimented, settled on a formula and decided to share the idea at an international conference two years ago.

He trademarked the names NicoStop and NicoPop, but doesn't mind that other pharmacists are using his idea to help smokers quit. He has a patent pending on a new formula. And he is working with a Georgia medical school on a study he hopes will convince the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow the lollipops to be sold without a prescription.

In Moses Lake, the Needhams worked with a doctor on a prescribing protocol they submitted to the Washington Board of Pharmacy. Once the protocol is reviewed and accepted by the board, the Needhams will be able to prescribe the lollipops under the doctor's authority.

Until then, they can fill orders by doctor's prescription. Hundreds of smokers have ordered the lollipops already, including Janet Needham's mother.

"We sent her a mix of flavors," Janet Needham said. "She's been working real hard at substituting the lollipops for cigarettes."

In other words, she hasn't licked the habit -- yet.

Carla K. Johnson can be reached at (509) 459-5148, or by e-mail at carlaj@spokesman.com.


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