Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lonely Tylenol

At this writing, the beleaguered pain reliever Tylenol is the subject of yet another product recall, which makes me think this pill definitely has a black cloud over its head, a literal curse or a hex, and that maybe it's time they just packed it in and gave up and shut down altogether.

I wouldn't miss them a bit if they did - even without the perennial concerns of product tampering and company malfeasance, Tylenol is a very dangerous substance. Acetaminophen causes three times as many cases of liver failure as all other drugs combined, and is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the United States, accounting for an astonishing 39% of cases. Acetaminophen overdose is responsible for more emergency room visits than any other medicine on the market, over-the-counter or otherwise. Why is this junk still legal?

The evidence is clear: product recall or not, the stuff is evil and you ought not be taking it. Tylenol is also extremely toxic to pets - dogs can suffer liver damage from it, and even a tiny amount is enough to kill a cat.

Acetaminophen (Paracetamol) was discovered in 1877 by Harmon Northrop Morse, and was considered as a useful drug but ultimately rejected because it was believed to cause methemoglobinemia as a side effect. Many years later in 1948, studies by Dr. Julius Axelrod (pictured below) and others indicated that the previous data was faulty, and Paracetamol began being sold as an analgesic in the early 1950s as Tylenol and Panadol.

Tylenol was, and is, manufactured and marketed by McNeil Laboratories, which got its humble start as a drugstore/soda fountain in 1879. McNeil was later acquired by Johnson & Johnson.

Concerns about paracetamol's safety delayed its widespread acceptance until the 1970s. But in 1982, a product tampering scare killed seven people when cyanide was added to Tylenol pills by an unknown hand. A man named James W. Lewis has been a recurring suspect, but there's been insufficient evidence as yet to prosecute.

1 comment:

  1. There is no reason to take acetaminophen unless one has pain. The incidences of overdosing and liver damage illustrate poignantly what an epidemic of ineffectively-managed pain we have in our country right now--and those who suffer with it given no recourse but to poison themselves in desperation for some relief.

    Something has, definitely, got to give . . .