Markets in Everything: Pill Panic

As some of you may know, there have been reports of crazy price spikes in potassium iodide, which can protect against thyroid cancer in the event of radioactive exposure.  Some of this is natural--all the world's potassium iodide pills should not be flowing to Japan and its immediate environs, and price signals are a good way to accomplish this.  But apparently the soaring demand is not limited to places near Japan--all over the US, people seem to be seeking the stuff.

Presumably at least some of this is for relatives abroad, but it seems unlikely that this is the source of all the demand.  Derek Lowe explains, as gently as possible, why it's not a good idea to take potassium iodide:

. . . unless you're actually being exposed to radioactive iodine, it's not going to do any good at all, and can actually do you harm. Pregnant women and people with thyroid problems, especially, should not go around gulping potassium iodide. Nothing radioactive is reaching North America yet - there's the Pacific Ocean to dilute things out along the way - which makes it very likely that more people on this side are in the process of injuring themselves by taking large unnecessary doses of iodide. This is like watching people swerve their cars off the road into the trees because they've heard that there's an accident fifty miles ahead.