PORTLAND, Ore.-- Fear of radiation has many customers rushing to buy iodine supplements, even though Oregon health officials warn they are not necessary.
"Taking iodine won't help you even a little bit and it may actually hurt you," said Radiation Oncologist Dr. David Gannett from Providence Health & Services.
The phones started ringing at pharmacies around the Portland area on Saturday and haven't stopped since. Worried customers are asking about Potassium Iodide, a supplement used to protect against radiation exposure.
"We are trying to get it as fast as we can but it is a little challenging," said Secia Beier of McCann's Pharmacy in King City. Most pharmacies don't have it in stock and those that do are selling out.
"They think the old time pharmacies might have some stashed away in a secret place," said Shawna Laxson of Fairley's Pharmacy in Northeast Portland.
The iodine rush has been reported across the nation. On NBC Nightly News, Chief Medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman told NBC's Brian Williams that people would really be better off taking that money and donating it to Japanese who need it because that is not money well spent
"It's Potassium Iodide that blocks the radioactive ingredient that can cause thyroid cancer," explained Dr. Snyderman, who added: "These pills are really meant for people who are going into harm's way and might be (directly) exposed to radiation."
For everyone else, Dr. Snyderman man urged people to "put it back in the medicine cabinet."
In nearby Taiwan, national health officials also urged residents not to take iodine tablets, stating that it was unnecessary, and warning the country's residents of potentially harmful side effects, including skin rashes, swollen salivary glands, a metallic taste in the mouth, a sense of burning in the mouth and throat, soreness in the teeth and gums, stomach discomfort and diarrhea.
The bottom line: Health officials say iodine is not necessary, and poses a risk of harmful side effects, since radiation from Japan's damaged nuclear plants is not expected to reach the United States.
Wall St. Journal: Iodine supplies run low as Americans seek it out
Business Week: Congress revives iodine debate
KGW Reporter Kyle Iboshi contributed to this report.