A study conducted as part of a ProPublica investigation has revealed that the American public’s understanding of the risks associated with Tylenol is remarkably inconsistent. The study, carried out by Princeton Survey Research Associates International at the request of ProPublica and This American Life, surveyed more than 1000 adults during February and March 2013 and has an error margin of only 3.5%, ProPublica reports. Its findings make for interesting reading.
How many Americans truly understand the risks of overdosing on acetaminophen.
Around half of those polled responded that they didn’t know of any safety warnings concerning Tylenol, even though 80 percent agreed that overdosing on the medicine would lead to side effects. Most interestingly, thirty-five percent agreed that it was fine to mix Tylenol with other acetaminophen medications, an act known as “double dipping” that can lead to overdosing and injury.
Tylenol has been linked to acute liver failure even when taken as directed, while more than two dozen lawsuits allege that the manufacturer, McNeil PPC, knew about these risks yet failed to warn consumers. The risk of unintentionally “double dipping” may be increased by the manufacturer’s misleading marketing, some lawsuits claim. Tylenol has been required to include labels warning of liver damage since 2009.
It’s reported that acetaminophen is responsible for up to 150 deaths every year in the United States, as well as countless hospital visits stemming from user overdose. The FDA has previously run public awareness campaigns; however, the effectiveness of this is called into question by the ProPublica report.
The study notes that “almost half of those surveyed (49 percent) said incorrectly that overdosing could cause heart palpitations, calling into question how much Americans truly understand about the risks of overdosing on acetaminophen.” Thirty-five percent of those polled also believed incorrectly that it is safe to take the maximum recommended dose of Tylenol at the same time as NyQuil cold medication, despite the latter also containing acetaminophen as its active ingredient. The FDA advises against medicating in this way because of the possibility of liver damage.
The gist of the report is clear: “Regulators worry that people don’t understand that many medicines contain acetaminophen – more than 600 in all, including commonly used prescription drugs such as Vicodin and Percocet.”
Although individuals should always ensure they read the labels of any medication they take and fully understand the potential risks, manufacturers also share a burden to inform and protect the public from known risks. In the cases of such widely used drugs as Tylenol or acetaminophen there are obvious difficulties in controlling user error, but if liver damage and other side effects are known about, companies must take steps to minimize these injuries.