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OpEd: Didn’t follow the directions? Whose fault is that?

It’s unfair to force the manufacturer of a safe drug to prevent fools from being foolish.
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Nevil Hunt, September 3, 2013 9:23:50 AM

Tylenol bottles in the United States will soon carry a new warning: Contains Acetaminophen, and Always Read the Label.

Acetaminophen has always been the active ingredient in Tylenol and users should read and understand the instructions on every drug they take or they are putting themselves at risk. It’s common sense.

Tylenol’s maker, Johnson and Johnson, is being sued because some people have died or been hurt after taking too much acetaminophen. Maybe the next step will be to stop selling knives because they’re sharp or bathtubs because someone once drowned in one.

A consumer’s lack of competence should never be reason to attack a product. If you follow the instructions, Tylenol is very safe. Given the amount of acetaminophen used and the number of deaths caused each year, you’d be more likely to be killed driving to the drug store to buy Tylenol than dying from taking the pills.

Taking too much acetaminophen can cause liver injuries. Johnson and Johnson has already lowered the recommended maximum dose of the drug in response to concerns. They also added warnings about mixing Tylenol with alcohol to avoid possible complications.

The risk of overdosing is very low: 500 U.S. deaths a year, of which half are suicides. Then consider that 60 per cent of the accidental deaths were caused by opioid-acetaminophen combined in a prescription medicine, not due to off-the-shelf drugs like Tylenol. That means 100 deaths by accidental overuse of off-the-shelf drugs like Tylenol in a country of 300 million people where nearly a quarter of all the adults take a dose of acetaminophen each week.

It would be nice if the number of deaths and injuries were lower. It appears some people take too much acetaminophen because they swallow too many Tylenols in a short period of time or combine different off-the-shelf drugs that contain the drug. That’s why Tylenol will come with warnings about containing acetaminophen.

But if acetaminophen overuse is the problem, the warning must be on every product that contains acetaminophen: the warning is useless if it’s on just some of the products.

Any substance we take that could be dangerous should come with clear instructions. Tylenol comes with clear instructions.

Acetaminophen is used safely every day and problems can occur when the instructions aren’t followed. It’s up to the user to follow any drug’s directions. If the Johnson and Johnson company can be held responsible for someone who’s irresponsible, get ready to turn in your knives and bathtubs.

Image credit: Thinkstock


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