Hidden Dangers in Over-the-Counter Medications

According to recent studies, more than 1,500 Americans have died after taking too much acetaminophen, which is the active ingredient in the popular over-the-counter pain medication Tylenol. While acetaminophen is not the only over-the-counter painkiller that can cause harm when used improperly, it is significantly more risky than other common drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin because of the narrow margin between a safe dosage and a potentially harmful dosage. While these revelations should give any consumer pause before taking some acetaminophen for a headache, this is not the truly troubling news. According to the independent non-profit news outlet ProPublica, the US Food and Drug Administration has been aware of the danger of acetaminophen since at least 1977, but has taken little to no action to protect consumers. A study by the FDA in the 1970s showed that acetaminophen usage could lead to “severe liver damage.” The FDA required that manufacturers and distributors of acetaminophen include this warning on all product packaging, but Tylenol, the largest and best-known acetaminophen medication, did not feature this warning on packaging until 2009. The FDA now admits that they have moved slowly in requiring similar warnings and effectively addressing the issue, but concerns remain. So-called “extra strength” products, which include larger amounts of the active ingredient acetaminophen, have flooded the market and rise in popularity each year. Consumers have only recently been sufficiently warned, and there is still significant work to be done to ensure transparency in the consumer drug industry. This work should be accomplished as quickly as possible – lives around the world depend on it.