Sunday, July 5, 2009

Should we eliminate combination products that contain acetaminophen?

So many combination products contain acetaminophen. You'll find them in prescription drugs (like Vicodin and Percocet) as well as in many over-the-counter (OTC) cough/cold medicines. For instance, Nyquil has an equivalent dose of 1000 mg of Tylenol (acetaminophen). If someone took Nyquil for a cold and then took some additional Tylenol for a headache, he could have a serious liver problem in a few days from a Tylenol overdose. Many people don't look at the ingredients of cold/cough medicines and they also don't realize that acetaminophen = Tylenol (just a different name).

Now, the FDA panel focused on prescription combination products that contain acetaminophen. Why? Because the data shows that acetaminophen-related overdoses occur mainly with prescription drugs. Maybe that's because some people are taking Vicodin and Percocet for drug-abuse problems and they're more prone to suicidal tendencies. Perhaps some people are "popping pain pills" to relieve intractable pain.

Regardless, I think that if we're going to change combination prescription drugs, then we should also re-evaluate combination OTC products that contain acetaminophen. Otherwise, consumers may get the wrong message. My hope is that we simply improve labeling and public health awareness but that all the products still remain available.

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