Update: New Acetaminophen Overdose Concerns

By: Jodi Baker Email
By: Jodi Baker Email

New recommendations could drastically change how we manage our pain. They involve one of the most widely used over-the-counter drugs in the U.S., acetaminophen.

It's found in Tylenol and Excederin. "I've taken two, sometimes three before," says Robin Freeman of Omaha.

And many of us have. But an Federal Drug Administration panel says we're taking too much. Dr. Richard Bose, with Midwest Pain Centers at 90th & Burt, agrees.

"They’ve made the efforts to educate the general public, and there are still a lot of people who simply do not realize how many medications are containing acetaminophen."

Through both over-the-counter and prescription products, it's easy to exceed the recommended daily dose of 4 grams, or 8 extra strength pills.

"And it's become the leading cause of liver failure and the leading cause of requiring liver transplants," says Dr. Bose.

So, an FDA panel made up of physicians, pharmacists and researchers voted Tuesday to lower the maximum daily dose of acetaminophen. They did not suggest an alternate daily dose.

When it comes to individual doses, the panel recommended 650 milligrams as the maximum. That equates to two regular strength pills. Two extra strength pills would exceed the recommendation by 350 milligrams.’

The idea, says Dr. Bose, is to provide a margin of error for patients.

“It’s good they’re warning people,” says Freeman. “If it’s bad, they need to know about it.”

As for medications that include acetaminophen, like Theraflu and Nyquil, the panel voted against removing them from store shelves.

According to FDA statistics, 56% of acetaminophen overdose occur when over-the counter acetaminophen is taken with prescription pills like Vicodin and Percocet, which also include acetaminophen. The panel wants those drugs eliminated or at the very least issued with the FDA’s strongest warning.

"The medication that you need, will still be available,” says Dr. Bose. “It just won't be in the combination form." Hydrocodone, for example, is the stripped down version of Vicodin, without acetaminophen.

Dr. Bose thinks the drugs should come in their simplest forms, making it easier to keep track of just how much acetaminophen we are taking.

Some choose to play it even safer, like Omahan Connie Eucker. "I don't know what too much is, and so I just choose not to do it if I don't absolutely have to. I do more natural remedies wherever I can."

For a full list of the FDA panel’s recommendations Click here.

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