Most people understand the dangers of an overdose – but you have to know what you are ingesting each time you take a medication. This is particularly true of medications containing acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol.
What many people don't realize is that Tylenol is not the only OTC medication with this ingredient. It is also found in the popular cold medication NyQuil as well as Exedrin Back and Body as well as prescription drugs that include Vicodin, Norco, Floricet and Phrenilin (source: FDA website). Acetaminophen has analgesic (pain relieving) as well as anti-inflammatory and fever-reducing properties – and unlike aspirin, when used properly.
Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the real dangers of acetaminophen. For example, according to a recent survey by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, more than a third of Americans believed there was no danger in mixing Tylenol with other medications containing acetaminophen. These results strongly indicate that McNeil Consumer Healthcare (part of the Johnson & Johnson “family of companies” that makes Tylenol) aren't doing an especially good job of bringing the public's attention to the dangers of acetaminophen.
There's another complicating aspect to this drug, which is the fact that acetaminophen has a psychoactive effect as well, helping people cope with feelings of isolation and rejection. It may be that such people are possibly more likely to consume alcohol – which, when mixed with acetaminophen, can have deadly consequences.
Although the FDA made recommendations long ago that included asking drugmakers to use the term “acetaminophen” instead of APAP and instructing patients to avoid alcohol and other medications containing the ingredient while taking Tylenol, these recommendations still had not been fully implemented as of 2009. There is currently a great deal of discussion going on, and warnings about “severe liver damage” have been required on labels since 2009. However, despite the FDA's acknowledgment that strong regulatory action needs to be taken, acetaminophen overdose continues to be a leading cause of acute liver failure and results in approximately 150 emergency room visits a day.
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