Make Known Unknown (Blog 9)

Tylenol Can Kill You


“Acetaminophen is also the nation’s leading cause of acute liver failure”

“Just two additional extra strength pills a day – has been reported to cause liver damage.”

Uhhh I don’t know about you, but I take Tylenol for headaches all the time. And there have definitely been a few times where I take an extra pill or two if it’s not doing the job quick enough. So the fact that each year, 150 people die from ingesting too much acetaminophen and 78,000 are hospitalized from it is terrifying.

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Here is the article I found with details and citations.

I would think that such a common household drug would not have such severe and widespread effects. I would expect the FDA to say something along the lines of “Let’s not sell something that can hospitalize tens of thousands of people.” Well, the FDA has indeed determined that the number of acetaminophen doses sold at once should be limited. This was decided 36 years ago, but still no action has been taken.

“Regulators in other developed countries, from Great Britain to Switzerland to New Zealand, have limited how much acetaminophen consumers can buy at one time or required it to be sold only by pharmacies. The FDA has placed no such limits on the drug in the U.S. Instead, it has continued to debate basic safety questions, such as what the maximum recommended daily dose should be.”

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Why hasn’t the FDA taken steps to regulate the amount of acetaminophen doses that can be sold?

“Officials proposed more than a dozen solutions, including several aimed at widening the drug’s safety margin, such as lowering the maximum recommended daily dose and reducing the amount of the drug in each pill. The report also suggested removing an entire class of pediatric products to reduce the potential for dosing mix-ups.

At the same time, the FDA officials who wrote the report gave a candid assessment of the fierce resistance they expected from drug makers to certain proposals. To the notion of lowering the recommended daily dose, the agency expected a possible industry challenge.”

I feel my faith in the safety of federally approved medicines rapidly diminishing. Even if consumers take the exactly recommended amount of one medicine, they could be entirely unaware that another drug contains acetaminophen. The long and short of it is that the FDA has left acetaminophen safety in the hands of individuals. Since the “FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, quality, and security of human and veterinary drugs”, it seems it’s not exactly doing its job.

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7 thoughts on “Tylenol Can Kill You

  1. Wow… the visual is stunning. I lived in Europe for several years. In general, there are many medicines you can buy there from a pharmacist without a prescription. So, I always assume they have more patient-centric approaches. The visual points out that in this one class of medicines, we let people take on far more risk.

    TO be very Marxist, I wonder if, given the number of uninsured Americans (until now) who rely on over-the-counter medicines to cope, to get to work, and so on, this is about enabling exploited workers to self-medicate. Acetaminophen is pain relief. How many office workers, package deliverers, Wal-Mart stockers, day laborers, chicken- cutters, and lawn mowers take two, four, six, eight a day to manage work-related pain?

    16 deaths in a population of 350 million isn’t much , but the hospitalizations!

  2. I agree with Jordi in that the visual sends the message home. My parents are physicians and for years they have warned me against taking too much Tylenol. I think that the lack of regulation and availability suggest to people that it’s harmless. I think your topic highlights how we must be educated consumers in a society full of potentially detrimental products.

  3. I wonder if the Tylenol needs to be ingested into a certain stomach environment to cause these issues, like how Advil shouldn’t be consumed with alcohol. Is an empty stomach worse? I am reminded of the Alieve commercials that say two Alieve can do what 6-8 pills of Tylenol do in a day. If people out there are truly taking that much, which the striking number of hospitalizations indicates, we have a problem on our hands. Nice find, I had no idea!

  4. I also found this article when searching for my blog and I was taken back for a moment. I always take Tylenol for the littlest of things sometimes and I never knew that there are such consequences of taking too much. I even looked up other medicines that had acetaminophen in them and I discovered other common medicines I take as well. I agree that something should be done even to inform the individual of the risks.

  5. Great use of visuals and external links to help us verify the data being presented.

    I agree with the above comments. I think that the US has such a vastly different health care system from the rest of the world that may attribute to the phenomenon described in your post. It just doesn’t make sense to me why people would go above and beyond the recommended dosage for medicines like Tylenol, but I guess we do.

  6. Can this also be tied to America’s issue of dependence on both over the counter drugs and prescription drugs? Though the evidence makes it obvious that Tylenol can in fact have dangerous side effects, it also has been around and in circulation for a long time. People have been using it in an appropriate manner for many years and maybe today’s society is changing opinions regarding drug use.

  7. This also reminds me of the incident when there were recalls for tylenol and it seemed like this drug dropped off people’s radars for awhile. I have personally always been a fan of Advil, and it seems doctors propose taking Advil is better… Such an interesting topic.

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