Lots of folks take Tylenol on a regular basis with no real concern over any risks or dangers. Actually, few see any real danger when taking the medication. Perhaps, a closer look by consumers is in order. The question is how deadly can Tylenol (acetaminophen, or paracetamol in the rest of the world) be? The short answer is: VERY. Consider these facts:
• Tylenol is the number one cause of liver failure in the US (more than alcohol). Over 40,000 people overdosed on Tylenol in 2011 resulting in over 16,000 cases of liver failure.
• About half of acetaminophen-related overdoses are accidental.
• Over 600 over-the-counter and prescription medications contain Acetaminophen – many times listed as “APAP.”
• The difference between therapeutic and toxic doses is very small.
Tylenol is the brand of acetaminophen made by McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a subsidiary of J&J. It has been estimated that approximately 50% of Tylenol overdoses result from the fact that so many drugs contain Acetaminophen. This, coupled with the facts that 30% of consumers do not realize the active ingredient in Tylenol is acetaminophen. Many medications list Acetaminophen as “APAP,” which is a recipe for disaster. The maximum recommended dosage is 3000 mg/24 hour period. Liver failure may occur at lower doses, but is most often reported at exposures of 4000mg/24 hours or greater. Consider the action taken by the FDA:
In order to reduce the incidence of overdoses, the FDA in 2011 required manufacturers of prescription drugs to reduce, over a 3 year period, the amount of acetaminophen in their drugs to no more than 325 mg per pill. This, however, does not apply to over-the-counter medications like extra-strength Tylenol which contains 500mg. Additionally, dosing recommendations have been lowered from 4 to 6 hours down to 6 hours and warnings have been added concerning the possibility of liver damage at more than 4000 mg/24 hours. The FDA also required Black Boxed Warnings about acute liver failure on all prescription medications containing acetaminophen.
The warnings on Tylenol also advise against taking Tylenol if you consume three or more alcoholic drinks per day. Alcohol use activates enzymes that transform acetaminophen into chemicals that can cause liver damage. Unfortunately, this can also happen with binge drinking. The higher the alcohol consumption, the more likely Tylenol, whether taken to prevent or treat a hangover, will cause liver failure and death. Several college students have died from this combination.
If any of our lawyer-readers have any clients or potential clients who have suffered liver failure while taking Tylenol, they can contact Roger Smith, a lawyer in our Mass Torts Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Roger.Smith@beasleyallen.com for assistance if needed. Roger would welcome the opportunity to review cases for anyone. He can also answer any other questions that our readers might have on this subject.
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