Researchers Find Proportion of Acetaminophen Users Exceed Recommended Maximum Daily Dosage
Acetaminophen is one of the most commonly used analgesic compounds worldwide; it is an ingredient in literally hundreds of over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription products. Consumers who take OTC medications for common conditions such as pain, fever, colds/flu, and allergies, represent a substantial proportion of total acetaminophen use, and generally take these products without medical oversight. While acetaminophen is generally safe when taken as directed, excessive doses can lead to potentially life-threatening liver damage, so consumers are advised not to exceed the recommended maximum daily dose of 4 grams.
In order to better understand how many acetaminophen users take more than four grams daily and who these over-users are, researchers from Boston University Slone Epidemiology Center (SEC) and other institutions conducted a survey among members of a national internet panel, who for seven days filled out a daily diary detailing the acetaminophen products they took on an hour by hour basis. The project was sponsored by McNeil Consumer HealthCare, the maker of Tylenol products. The findings recently appeared on-line in Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety.
The researchers found that 4.5 percent of the 3,618 acetaminophen product users took more than four grams on at least one of the seven diary days, but only a few took more than eight grams. Those who exceeded four grams tended to have chronic pain, poor physical status, and heavy use of medical care. Compared with other users, they were less likely to know that the products they took contained acetaminophen, and were also less likely to know the recommended OTC doses. However, the reported frequency of reading the product labels was not related to going above the limit. The attitude that users could choose their own dose regardless of recommendations was more common among those who took more than four grams.
“Our finding that a measurable fraction of users exceed the recommended maximum daily dose of four grams reinforces the need for consumer outreach to reduce over-dosing with these very commonly used products,” explained lead author David Kaufman, ScD, Associate Director of the SEC and a professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health.
According to Kaufman, the data from this study support certain intervention approaches that target modifiable factors, such as educating consumers about which products contain acetaminophen and what the proper doses are, and influencing their attitudes about how to take OTC products. “The data also suggest that interventions through healthcare providers, especially those who treat chronic pain, may be important,” he added.