This American Life and ProPublica recently reported on accidental deaths caused by acetaminophen overdose, and the various factors that have allowed the serious risks associated with acetaminophen to continue largely unaddressed. Currently, there are approximately 600 medications with acetaminophen approved for sale in the United States, while acetaminophen overdose sends as many as 78,000 Americans to the emergency room and results in 33,000 hospitalizations a year. From 2001 to 2010, it is estimated that 1,567 Americans have died from accidental acetaminophen poisoning.
Major players in the continuation of acetaminophen complications include the following:
1. The Food and Drug Administration, which reports that, unlike other over-the-counter pain relievers, acetaminophen has a narrow safety margin that places “a large fraction of users close to a toxic dose in the ordinary course of use.” However, it has not finalized how it will regulate acetaminophen even though the risks have been known since the mid 1970s, and has acted slowly in enforcing better safety labels for consumers.
2. McNeil Consumer Healthcare (maker of Tylenol), which has repeatedly opposed patient safety measures
3. Lack of public awareness- a 2013 national poll indicates that many Americans are not aware of the dangers of acetaminophen, or the dangers of taking acetaminophen with alcohol and “double dipping” (combining use of multiple drugs with acetaminophen)