Acetaminophen Dangers and Risks

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"Acetaminophen," is the generic name of a non-opiate, non-salicylate analgesic drug commonly sold over the counter for pain relief and reduction of fever.  It is the main pharmacological ingredient products such as:

  • Tylenol
  • Panadol
  • Aspirin-Free Anacin
  • Bayer Select Maximum Strength Headache Pain Relief Formula
  • Excedrin
  • Vicodin
  • Percocet
  • acetaminophen codeine

And numerous other sinus, cold and flu medication and prescription drugs. Acetaminophen works by elevating the patient’s threshold to pain.  In order for the brain to perceive pain there must be a greater stimulation of the nerves responsible for the sensation of that pain. Acetaminophen reduces the brain’s ability to perceive pain and in overdose situation can cause adverse reactions such as mental confusion.  acetaminophen drugs reduce fever through chemical action affecting the temperature-regulating center of the brain.

Possible Ban of Acetaminophens

The FDA is considering imposing new restrictions on the use of acetaminophen. In July of 2009, an FDA advisory committee recommended that new restrictions could protect a large number of people from the risk of potential toxicity that can cause liver failure and in severe cases premature death.  According to FDA studies done between 1990 and 1998, acetaminophen overdoses caused 56,000 emergency room visits, 26,000 hospitalizations, and 458 deaths annually.

Risks of Use

The usual dosage for adults and children age 12 and over is 325-650 mg every 4- 6 hours as needed. No more than 4 grams (4000 mg) should be taken in 24 hours. For children ages 6-11 years, the usual dose is 150-300 mg, three to four times a day.   Because the drug can potentially harm the liver, people who drink alcohol in large quantities should take considerably less acetaminophen than generally recommended and possibly avoid the use of the drug completely. Anyone who drinks three or more alcoholic beverages a day should check with a physician before using any acetaminophen drug and should never take more than the recommended dosage. There is an elevated risk of liver damage in patients combining large amounts of alcohol and acetaminophen. Those people who already have kidney or liver disease or liver infections should also consult with a physician before using the drug.   Smoking cigarettes may interfere with the effectiveness of acetaminophen drugs such that smokers may need to take higher doses of the medicine for it to be effective.  The final result places smokers at elevated risk of liver damage due to accidental acetaminophen overdose or unintentional misuse of an over the counter drug. 

Overdose Symptoms

General symptoms indicating an acetaminophen overdose include:

  • lightheadedness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • appetite loss
  • sweating
  • diarrhea
  • irritability
  • abdominal pain, especially near the liver (the upper right part of the abdomen)
  • yellow eyes or skin
  • liver failure
  • kidney failure
  • heart problems
  • coma
  • seizures and death

In severe or long existing, repetitive overdose situations symptoms such as ulcers or bleeding in the digestive tract can occur, although that kind misuse result it is much less common with acetaminophen overdose than it might be with the misuse of other non-prescription pain relievers such as common aspirin.

Determining Liability and Taking Legal Action

Patients who took a drug containing pharmaceutical chemicals such as acetaminophen and were harmed by it instead of being helped may have grounds to bring a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of that drug.  Often the cause of action will include a failure to warn of foreseeable contra-indications and will be brought against the pharmaceutical manufacturer of the specific trade name of the product used.  A plaintiff must often prove that the drug at issue or the related use warnings were defective in some way.  There may have been a defect in the way the drug was marketed, tested, and manufactured. Marketing defects are particularly abundant in drug defect cases, and involve improper instructions concerning use and overdose and failures to warn consumers about some dangerous aspect of the product.  Consult with a product liability attorney as soon as possible if you believe you have been harmed by a pharmaceutical product.  The attorney can act to preserve your rights and interests and help to prevent any additional harm physical and financial that may arise from the injury caused the defective pharmaceutical.

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