Monday, July 13, 2009

FDA Wants to Ban Popular Painkillers Containing Acetominophen

Apparently, the FDA is thinking of banning painkillers like Vicodin (hydrocodone + acetominophen) and Percocet (oxycodone + acetominophen) because they contain... acetominophen, best known as "Tylenol." Acetaminophen is added in the formulations because it acts on different pain receptors than hydrocodone and oxycodone. An FDA advisory panel argues that acetominophen can cause liver damage if it is taken at high doses and is urging the FDA to lower the recommended maximum doses for the drug. The issue with Vicodin and Percocet is that patients may not realize that they contain acetominophen and may mix them with other drugs that contain acetominophen, like NyQuil and Theraflu, and there is some research that suggests the possibility of greater liver damage with these two painkillers. If the ban on Vicodin and Percocet goes through, doctors will have to figure out how to manage their patients' pain using other (and perhaps more complicated) methods. Of course, the pharmaceutical industry is planning to fight the ban, since prescription drugs containing acetominophen generated $1.4 billion in sales in 2008.

I always thought that acetominophen was the typically recommended over-the-counter painkiller because it was "mild" -- I guess in that it doesn't irritate your stomach like aspirin and ibuprofen can. I'm also aware that combining the use of acetominophen with alcohol is bad for the liver -- so don't try to take Tylenol to take care of that awful hangover! Apparently, it's the painkiller of choice for pregnant women, as it's recommended for use in all stages of pregnancy for short-term fever and pain relief. While it's been safely used as the standard remedy for fever and pain in children, parents need to be careful not to mix Tylenol with other medicines, such as cold medicines which often already contain acetominophen or contain alchohol in their formulations. The Mayo Clinic has published an article that contains some useful information, as well as a dosage chart for children that also lists the toxic amount over a 24-hour period for a given child's weight.

I used to be a big fan of Tylenol, but I found that it took too long to take effect, so I've mostly switched to Advil (ibuprofen), and I don't take it unless I absolutely need to. I think I was given prescription strength Motrin (also ibuprofen) both when I had wisdom tooth surgery and my c-section, and I recall feeling some withdrawal symptoms, like headaches, when I stopped using it. The nurses and doctors at the hospital called me "iron woman" when they found out I stopped taking the Motrin 3 days after surgery. :)

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