Cancer Medicine
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  • The drug accounts for about 500 deaths annually in the United States due to complications
  • Sustained intake of the drug in high doses can potentially cause irreparable damage to the liver
  • Medical doctors warn the general public to be mindful of every medication they take

The drug cited as the leading cause of liver failure in the United States continues to be available in the market and embedded in hundreds of cold and cough medicines, according to a report.

Acetaminophen, a pain medication commonly used to treat fever and mild to moderate pain in the U.S., accounts for about 500 deaths per year, around 56,000 emergency department visits and 2,6000 hospitalizations annually, The Epoch Times reported.

An updated report by the National Institutes of Health also put acetaminophen overdose as the leading cause of liver transplantation in the U.S.

"Acetaminophen is by far the number one cause of acute liver failure in the United States," Dr. Nima Majlesi, director of medical toxicology at Staten Island University Hospital in New York, told the news outlet.

He said that most cases that resulted from unintentional chronic overdoses of the drug are often due to the misuse of the medications that contain it, such as Percocet, Vicodin, and Tylenol PM. Taking multiple acetaminophen-containing products could also risk someone's health due to high dosage intake.

"Medications such as Percocet, Tylenol PM, Robitusson, and Nyquil all can contain acetaminophen," Majlesi said. "In fact, acetaminophen has been reported to be present in about 600 different products."

Due to its potential dangers, several countries like the United Kingdom, Norway, India, Algeria and Kyrgyzstan have banned or limited the use of acetaminophen. It is also one of the most frequently banned or restricted drugs in the world.

Although the drug is effective in treating symptoms like pain and fever, sustained intake of the drug in high doses can potentially cause irreparable damage to the liver since it can't keep up with the breakdown process, which could cause toxic byproducts to accumulate and damage liver cells.

And even if people are advised to take medications as directed, there's still concern that not all doctors prescribe taking another acetaminophen medication when already taking an opioid/acetaminophen drug combination, Dr. Kevin Zacharoff, a chronic pain and substance-use expert said, per The Epoch Times.

"What that means is that a significant percentage of people who need liver transplants in the United States need them not because of IV drug abuse or anything else other than the fact that they were 'poisoned' in some way by too much acetaminophen," said Zacharoff.

The easy access to this drug is also making it a potential drug for those who want to take their lives.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a 30% increase in suicide attempts among children in the United States aged 10 to 19 years old between 2019 and 2021. The data showed an even alarming 73% increase in children aged 10 to 12, while for adolescents aged 13 to 15, a 49% increase was recorded.

Majlesi warned the general public to be mindful of every medication they take.

"As a consumer, you should be aware of every medication that is going into your body," he said. "If you are taking combination preparations, then know what each drug in the prep is and why you are taking it."

He also recommended using generic names instead of brand names when discussing drugs in their daily regimen and close consultation with a physician, particularly when taking drugs containing acetaminophen.