1. New instructions for Tylenol

    Way too many people are taking way too much Tylenol -- and Johnson & Johnson's latest window-dressing maneuvers won't fix a thing.

    J&J says the changes it will make -- next year, mind you, not today -- will help stop the overuse that's turned the drug's main ingredient, acetaminophen, into the leading cause of liver failure in the United States.

    But they're not changing the drug.

    They're not even changing the dose.

    They're simply changing the maximum number of pills a patient should take each day from eight to six.

    Big stinking deal -- and when you consider the musty odor that's led to a recall of some Tylenol products, I do mean "stinking." Anyone who's been paying attention can tell you that the real problem isn't the instructions on the label, or even that awful smell.

    It's the drug itself -- along with the fact that drug makers have put it into just about everything from painkillers like J&J's Tylenol to cold meds like Procter & Gamble's Nyquil... not to mention prescription drugs such as Vicodin and Percocet.

    Many people overdose on acetaminophen simply because they have no idea how much they've taken.

    Then, they find out the hard way what happens when you take too much -- and liver failure is just the beginning. One study earlier this year found people who pop just four Tylenols a week have double the risk of blood cancers.

    Two other recent studies found that kids given acetaminophen regularly -- say, to reduce an ordinary and often harmless low-grade fever -- have a higher risk of asthma, wheezing, and other breathing problems.

    And let's not forget the infamous recalls of both regular and children's Tylenol lines due to quality control issues ranging from that musty odor I mentioned earlier to bacterial contamination and "tiny particles" -- including bits of metal -- in the medicine.

    Throw in all the other problems linked to acetaminophen -- nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and allergic reactions, just to name a few -- and it's bad news all around, no matter how many pills you take.

  2. Prescription drug abuse finally on FDA's radar

    by Dr. Alan Inglis

    I swear, sometimes I think if the FDA moved any slower, it would be going backwards. I told you earlier this week about the FDA finally getting around to establishing new testing guidelines for the blood thinner heparin, a year and a half after it was linked to hundreds of deaths.

    Now, the organization charged with protecting our health has finally decided to do something about the abuse of prescription opioids, such as Vicodin and OxyContin. I don't know if anyone from the FDA has picked up a newspaper in the past several years, but abuse of these painkiller drugs has become rampant, and they're even being sold as street drugs.

    To help curb the problem, the FDA says this March it will meet with officials from more than a dozen Big Pharma companies to work up some "risk-management plans." The goal will be to avoid hundreds of deaths caused every year by patients' misusing and doctors mis-prescribing opioids.

    In very limited defense of the FDA, Congress only gave it the authority to order risk- management plans in 2007. Of course, there were plenty of other actions the FDA could have taken, particularly as it became evident that these highly addictive drugs were being widely abused.

    Part of the problem is that doctors are prescribing these very serious drugs for conditions that don't call for them. For example, many doctors prescribe opioids for migraine headaches – problem is, opioids have never been approved for this use.

    This over-prescribing is a big part of the reason that nearly 4 million Americans are currently taking an opioid drug. Many folks will become needlessly addicted to these drugs. Others will have their lives ended by opioids.

    Hopefully, the FDA's meeting with Big Pharma will bear some fruit. There could even be public hearings later in the year. But I've been down this road too many times to have a ton of confidence that any real difference will be made.

    In the meantime, there are things you can do to prevent opioid abuse. If you take one of these prescriptions, lock it up and never share it. Even better, look into some of the safer, natural alternatives for managing your pain.

2 Item(s)