June 10 / 11, 2006
Tylenol Toxicity Terror
By FRED GARDNER
The "therapeutic ratio" of a drug compares the amount required to produce harmful effects with the amount required to provide benefit. The therapeutic ratio of acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, is about 2:1 -and even lower if your liver has been compromised by hepatitis or alcohol. An Extra-Strength Tylenol contains 500 milligrams of acetaminophen. The recommended daily maximum is eight pills -4,000 mg, or four grams. A person taking twice that much can incur severe liver damage -and people in pain sometimes lose perspective and gulp a handful. "Seven to eight grams a day for three or four days can be fatal," according to William M. Lee, MD, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
The active ingredient in Tylenol, acetaminophen, had been known to have anti-fever and anti-pain effects since the end of the 19th century, but no drug company saw fit to manufacture it until McNeil Consumer Healthcare began marketing Tylenol Elixir for Children in 1955 as a safer alternative to aspirin.
Johnson & Johnson acquired McNeil in 1959. In the 1960s J&J pushed Tylenol forcefully after aspirin was associated by an Australian pediatrician named Reye (pronounced "Rye") with a very rare, potentially fatal condition involving the liver and ultimately the brain of infants and children who, Reye found, had been treated with aspirin in response to upper respiratory infections.
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