IRVINE, CA: Allergan and Chandler Chicco are working to protect the Botox brand after a counterfeit item sickened four people.
The crisis effort went into effect last month after the would-be patients contracted botulinum poisoning at a Florida medical facility. Botulinum toxin is the substance in Botox that paralyzes wrinkle-causing facial muscles.
Officials have confirmed that the facility intentionally used a fake, homemade "Botox."
Since the crisis broke, Allergan has been issuing statements and developing Q&As to stress Botox's 15 years of safety data, a Chandler Chicco executive said.
Allergan's latest press release stressed that the poisoning resulted because of "unethical people," and is "not an issue of an unsuspecting healthcare practitioner getting something other than Botox."
Stephanie Fagan, Allergan's senior director of corporate communications, said that her company also worked "very, very closely" with the PR teams at state and federal health agencies because of the potential for a public health crisis if the source of the poisoning were not found.
Allergan also coordinated with partners like the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), which has urged patients to beware of "unqualified and sometimes unscrupulous practitioners."
Allergan distributed ASAPS materials with its own press kit, said Adeena Colbert, media relations manager for the ASAPS.
The society is also keeping its own members up to date on the latest news so they can pass it along to patients.
"For the most part, we're relying on the doctors," Colbert said. "Their patients trust them."
Fagan noted that most doctors "almost assumed that it wasn't Botox" causing the illnesses.
"From a customer perspective, I think what is unique to this brand is that there is extremely strong loyalty," she said.
But she noted that the challenge has been making sure the media uses "Botox" as a brand name, and not a generic.
"We had to educate people that there are tissues, and then there's Kleenex. ... There's botulinum, and then there's Botox."
Fagan explained that doctors, who use Botox for both cosmetic and medical reasons, have often been the first contacts for reporters.
"Our messaging was driven by physicians," she said.
Allergan is not the first drug company to defend a product brand against imitations.
This summer, Pfizer undertook a media, ad, and internet campaign to warn patients about buying fake Viagra through illegal online pharmacies.
Colbert noted that it is nearly impossible to keep statistics on how common fake Botox is.