These days Americans seem to be gulping down over the counter (OTC) medications like they are candy. There are many types of OTC products for the treatment of different medical conditions. If you walk into any pharmacy, there are aisles and aisles filled with OTC products. People have now developed the habit of picking out decongestants, pain pills and laxatives.
The OTC medicines industry is a multibillion dollar business showing consistent growth each year. If taken as directed, healthcare providers say that these OTC products are effective and safe. Unfortunately, many people do not read the labels or the instructions on OTC products.
The general assumption is that if it is readily available in the aisle, it must be safe. Each year countless number of adults and children present to the emergency room with serious health problems after having taken the wrong dose or the wrong combination of medications. Most Americans never consider the possibility that their OTC products could interact with their prescription medications.
One of the most common OTC medications, acetaminophen (Tylenol) is often used to treat pain from a variety of causes. The drug is effective but it is also associated with a high number of deaths. In 2016 alone, there were 360 deaths from acetaminophen. In addition, nearly 60,000 people are admitted and hospitalized each year from acetaminophen poisoning. Acetaminophen is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the US and this also results in an immense cost to the healthcare system.
In most cases, the cause of acetaminophen poisoning is using more than what is recommended over a period of several days. Most of the time, the overdose is unintentional. The problem is when people have a bad headache or joint pain, they seek instant relief. And when the acetaminophen doesn’t work right away, they believe that more is better, completely forgetting that more is also associated with serious side effects.
Apart from a risk of overdose, there is also a concern that use of Tylenol during pregnancy may harm the fetus or may be associated with abnormal behavior in the child later in life.
Most over the counter acetaminophen tablets contain between 325-650 mg and the total amount of Tylenol that can be taken per day is 3,000 mg. Most people never bother to look at the recommended dosage or the maximum dose. It is thus obvious that until Americans get better educated on label reading, the problem of toxicity with OTC products will remain.