Sunday, September 22, 2013

Far Worse Than a Headache

Trey Smith

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has long been aware of studies showing the risks of acetaminophen – in particular, that the margin between the amount that helps and the amount that can cause serious harm is smaller than for other pain relievers. So, too, has McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the unit of Johnson & Johnson that has built Tylenol into a billion-dollar brand and the leader in acetaminophen sales.

Yet federal regulators have delayed or failed to adopt measures designed to reduce deaths and injuries from acetaminophen overdose, which the agency calls a “persistent, important public health problem.”

The FDA has repeatedly deferred decisions on consumer protections even when they were endorsed by the agency’s own advisory committees, records show.

In 1977, an expert panel convened by the FDA issued urgently worded advice, saying it was “obligatory” to put a warning on the drug’s label that it could cause “severe liver damage.” After much debate, the FDA added the warning 32 years later.
~ from Use Only As Directed by Jeff Gerth and T. Christian Miller ~
The snippet above is from Part 2 of a 3-part series. It makes for interesting, albeit disturbing, reading. While I was aware of the potential damage that acetaminophen may inflict on the liver, I still was surprised by the number of annual deaths. You would think that either the manufacturer or the government would do something substantive to try to minimize the problem!


A lot of the people I know pop pills without thinking much about it. Trouble with a headache or a nagging backache? Take some aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Suggest that such over-the-counter drugs may cause more harm than good and a lot of people will scoff at you.

I am on the opposite end of the spectrum. A lot of people think I'm a masochist because I won't take any pain meds unless I am basically in agony and even then I sometimes forgo them. Why? Experience!

When I was in my early teens and experiencing a lot of trouble with navigating the social environment, my parents sent me to a shrink. Rather than investigate as to whether or not I might, possibly, be autistic (?), Dr. Shrink merely prescribed some tranquilizers for me. They didn't work as intended as they hyped me up even more than I already was! We tried several different varieties and none of them did the trick. While none of these prescriptions lessened my anxiety to the sought after levels, each one caused side effects that I was none too pleased with. At some point, I told everyone concerned that I wasn't going to take any more of those damned pills and I damn well didn't.

Also, at about this time, I really started to suffer greatly from pain associated with my diseased left hip. My doctor grandfather prescribed a series of pain relievers. While some were more effective than others, I again suffered from the side effects. My most common complaint was that they made my irritable bowel syndrome even more irritable than usual.

These two situations taught me a valuable lesson. Why take a drug that addresses one problem while creating another? While I certainly don't enjoy dealing with anxiety and pain, I'd rather deal with the devil I know than to deal with one I'm not accustomed to. In addition, as someone who researches the drugs doctors attempt to prescribe for me, I am well aware that many -- particularly pain relievers -- can be hard on a person's liver. Why take the chance of compromising this needed organ for a brief respite from pain?

If a person's liver fails, that will hurt a lot more than an aching hip...and possibly kill you in the process!

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