A codeine addict who contaminated packets of Nurofen Plus in a ruse to fund his habit was jailed today for 18 months.
Christopher McGuire cost the manufacturers £2.4 million and saved himself just £7 by placing strips of an anti-psychotic drug in empty packets of the painkiller and swapping them for new packets at pharmacies.
He was today imprisoned by a judge at Southwark Crown Court for the "carefully thought out and skilfully executed" scheme, which created a "good deal of public fear and anxiety".
Passing sentence, judge Alistair McCreath told McGuire: "Your acts caused very considerable financial harm, amounting to well over £2 million.
"The costs included recalling the product, destroying suspect stock, investigating the problem which you caused, returning new products to the market and handling the reputational damage caused by you.
"In short, the harm you actually caused or might have caused by your acts was very high."
The court has heard how McGuire's scheme involved asking for Nurofen Plus at a pharmacy counter and then attempting to pay for it with a card he knew would be declined. In doing this, he created sufficient distraction to discreetly swap the contaminated packet for the fresh one and walk away.
His actions cost manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser £2.4 million when the painkiller was recalled.
McGuire, who went to university at the age of 16, took 32 tablets of the drug each day to feed his secret addiction. But after losing his job he struggled to pay for it.
Instead, the 31-year-old replaced empty packets with the Seroquel he was being prescribed for schizophrenia, and the contaminated packs ended up in the hands of unsuspecting members of the public.
Two men, Peter Letham and Paul Connor, took the anti-psychotic drugs in error, believing them to be Nurofen Plus, and were left feeling unwell.
Mr Letham and Mr Connor swallowed the wrong tablets after Mr Letham's wife, Jacqueline, bought what she thought was a 32-pack of Nurofen Plus from a branch of Boots pharmacy in The Glades Shopping Centre in Bromley, south-east London, on August 21 last year.
The next day Mr Letham, who was employed on a building site, took the packet to work. There he took three tablets and gave two to his colleague Mr Connor, who was suffering neck pain.
Both men soon began to feel unwell, experiencing tiredness and dizziness. They later discovered the drug inside the packet was in fact Seroquel instead of Nurofen Plus.
On July 24 and July 28 last year two other consumers realised the Nurofen Plus they had bought also contained Seroquel instead, but did not swallow any.
The first incident occurred when a woman bought a 32-pack from a Boots pharmacy in London's Victoria station and the second when a man bought a 32-pack in a branch of Boots in Beckenham High Street in south-east London.
In a fourth incident, an assistant at a Beckenham pharmacy found Seroquel tablets inside a Nurofen Plus packet in the store.
McGuire, of Edzell Drive in Glasgow, was tracked down to his landlady's home in Swanley, Kent, on September 23 after the origins of the Seroquel were traced. He admitted his actions and was later charged with causing a public nuisance.