FDA urges warnings about common painkiller - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

6/30/09

FDA urges warnings about common painkiller

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By Cassie Hataway | email

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - There has been serious concern recently about acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol and other over-the-counter and prescription pain medication.  It is considered safe and effective when taken properly, but if taken in high doses, can lead to severe liver damage and even death. 

So, Tuesday, an FDA advisory panel voted to lower the current maximum daily dose of acetaminophen, citing, for example, taking eight Extra Strength Tylenol a day is too much.  They believe that by lowering the amount, they will reduce the chance of overdose in people who may combine over the counter medications like Tylenol, Nyquil, Theraflu, and others- all of which contain acetaminophen. 

Many people testified before the committee Tuesday, including a pharmacist, Dr. Rebecca Drake, whose sister died of severe liver damage after taking acetaminophen for acid reflux.  "And in a very short time period, in about a week or two, she ended up having acute abdominal pain, and went to a local emergency room and there was found to be in acute liver failure.  It was very hard to have my family ask me if I knew acetaminophen could do this, when I did.  And I believe my family is above average in health literacy, however this still happened to us", said Dr. Drake.

Fifty-six thousand Americans suffer liver damage each year after taking too much acetaminophen.  Again, the problem is that Americans often don't realize how much acetaminophen they're getting when they combine over the counter medications that use that as a common ingredient.  Tuesday, an FDA drug safety advisory committee said that the indications need to be changed and are recommending a lower maximum dose. The committee also recommended eliminating prescriptions that combine the painkiller with a stronger narcotic, like Vicodin.  It could take months for the FDA to follow through with any of the committee recommendations.

So, nothing changes except, hopefully, consumer awareness.  Never take more than what is directed on the label and the maximum allowed on the label may still be too much, if you are combining that with prescription or other over the counter medications.

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