Consumers unaware of harmful pain killer ingredients

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Acetaminophen harm

Researchers say just 31 percent of consumers interviewed in a study understand that Tylenol, also marketed as Paracetamol, contains the drug acetaminophen, as do 600 other painkillers. Lack of attention to ingredients in over-the-counter painkillers leads to misuse.

Consumers don’t check, or confused about over-the-counter pain meds

Acetaminophen is a leading cause of acute liver failure in the US that the researchers say may be because consumers are simply confused when they read labels, or don’t check ingredients at all.

Michael Wolf, an associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and senior author of the study says finding that consumers don’t know what ingredients are in the drugs they are taking is “alarming”.

Jennifer King, lead author of the paper and project leader for medication safety research in Feinberg's Health Literacy and Learning Program said, “When you have pain, you aren't paying attention to what's in a medicine, you just want relief. People think 'if I can buy it without a prescription, it can't be harmful'. They don't realize exceeding the maximum dose can cause liver damage."

Forty-one percent of consumers said they read drug labels


The study found 41 percent of consumers who participated in the research said they read drug label ingredients. Among those, 25 percent didn’t know Bayer contained aspirin.

Just 19 percent of consumers knew Advil contained ibuprofen, but 47 percent understood Motrin contains the ingredient.

Prescription drugs contain acetaminophen that is labeled APAP. Combining drugs can easily lead to overdose. Few consumers understand APAP is the acronym for N-acetyl-p-aminophenol, the active ingredient of the drug Paracetamol (acetaminophen).

The researchers say stronger warnings about liver damage from acetaminophen are needed, as well as icons on the bottles for low literacy groups so they can identify the presence of acetaminophen in painkillers. In the study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, forty four percent of those interviewed had six grade reading skills or below, putting them at high risk for liver failure from pain medications that they would not understand contain acetaminophen.

Image credit: Wikimedia commons
Author: Ragesoss


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