To Take it or Not To Take It


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Medicine: A Good or Bad thing?

As far as I knew growing up, I thought taking over-the-counter painkillers for your sickness/pain needs was a universally accepted practice. It wasn't uncommon in my house to ask for a tylenol when you had a headache, motrin when you had a fever, etc.

It wasn't until this year that I met people who try to avoid medicine as much as they can. I met people, a doctor and a nurse, who told me they don't believe in medicine for day to day issues. They believe that the human body is very resilient and can take care of itself. My roommates, having been raised the same way, rarely take any medicine unless they absolutely have to. Interestingly enough, they rarely have to at all.

I am the opposite - when I feel a headache brewing, which happens kind of frequently I guess because of my allergies, I take a Tylenol without even thinking about it.

"Three-fifths of the medications purchased in the United States are nonprescription over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, widely viewed as a cost-effective segment of personal health care" - that number tells me that I am not alone in my practice. Should I start thinking twice every time I take over-the-counter medicine like my roommates, or should they not be afraid of taking over-the-counter medicine when they need it?

This post, I will focus on the common over-the-counter drug ingredient, acetaminophen. In my next/follow-up post, I will focus on analyzing nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs which are found in Aspirin, Advil, Motrin, and Aleve among other medications.

People take over-the-counter drugs all the time. They take them as pain relievers and fever reducers, as cures for coughs and colds, as a solution to aches, cramps, and discomfort. And they help. According to the consumer goods tracker Information Resources Inc., "Drug stores, supermarkets and mass merchandisers like Target and Kmart sold more than $2 billion worth of over-the-counter pain medicine in the past year." OTC drugs are popular and offer convenience and results to consumers. Based on this information, it makes sense to use these types of drugs when you need them.

Too much of a good thing, however, can be bad, which is why a lot of controversy has surrounded OTC drugs in the past few years till now. Within the last two years, the FDA had recommended a ban on all prescription pain relievers containing the ingredient acetaminophen. This is concerning as acetaminophen is the number one ingredient in the OTC pain reliever Tylenol. The panel also proposed "lowering the amount of acetaminophen in over-the-counter medication like Tylenol from 500 milligrams to 325, which could cap the maximum daily dose at 2,600 milligrams." Apparently, the reason for this was because "about 400 Americans die and 42,000 more visit the ER because of acetaminophen overdoses, which can lead to liver damage." Since many OTC products contain acetaminophen, this makes overdosing not hard to do if an uneducated person is self-medicating.

Liver damage is a word that has been floating around acetaminophen since it came out. To get to the point of risk of liver damage however, one would have to take more than 8 pills of Tylonel, or exceed 4000 milligrams of acetaminophen, within a twenty-four hour period. That is a lot of tylonel, which is why Sandra Kweder, M.D., deputy director of the Office of New Drugs in FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) insists that "there is no immediate danger to patients who take these combination pain medications and they should continue to take them as directed by their health care provider."

Continue reading my next post where I will analyze another type of OTC ingredient and then make a conclusion based on the evidence I have found. 

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/01/050111123706.htm

http://painresource.com/living-well/pain-relievers/death-of-a-painkiller/

http://www.diversalertnetwork.org/medical/articles/DAN_Takes_a_Look_at_Over-the-Counter_Medications

http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/features/safe-use-otc-pain-relievers

http://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/features/are-nsaids-safe-for-you

http://abcnews.go.com/Business/PainManagement/story?id=731159&page=1

8 Comments

My roommate pops pills for every little thing as well, no matter how much I tell her it's better to try and stick it out. I rarely take medicine for pains. One reason is because I am afraid of building a tolerance and then not having the medicine work when I really need it to. However, according to Advil's FAQ (http://www.advil.com/faqs) it shows that no tolerance has been shown to build-up. While this does make me hesitate a bit less when taking Advil, I still believe in using medicine sparingly because of other effects, such as liver disease and other types of diseases that come from your body having to process too much medicine.

I wonder if there is more of a risk to your liver's health in taking small doses of acetaminophen very frequently (let's say 2 or 3 pills a day, four times a week) versus eight or more acetaminophen pills in a 24-hour period. I also wonder if your body ever gets any better at processing the drug so that one can build up a tolerance and take more of it while avoiding liver damage. I found this information from the FDA on acetaminophen (http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm168830.htm) which explains some dangers associated with liver damage and taking too much of the drug. I also think it's important for college students to know the risks of drinking alcohol in excess and taking acetaminophen! Many view it as a hangover cure/prevention method, but it can actually do you more harm than good in the case.

I wonder if there is more of a risk to your liver's health in taking small doses of acetaminophen very frequently (let's say 2 or 3 pills a day, four times a week) versus eight or more acetaminophen pills in a 24-hour period. I also wonder if your body ever gets any better at processing the drug so that one can build up a tolerance and take more of it while avoiding liver damage. I found this information from the FDA on acetaminophen (http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm168830.htm) which explains some dangers associated with liver damage and taking too much of the drug. I also think it's important for college students to know the risks of drinking alcohol in excess and taking acetaminophen! Many view it as a hangover cure/prevention method, but it can actually do you more harm than good in the case.

I wonder if there is more of a risk to your liver's health in taking small doses of acetaminophen very frequently (let's say 2 or 3 pills a day, four times a week) versus eight or more acetaminophen pills in a 24-hour period. I also wonder if your body ever gets any better at processing the drug so that one can build up a tolerance and take more of it while avoiding liver damage. I found this information from the FDA on acetaminophen (http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm168830.htm) which explains some dangers associated with liver damage and taking too much of the drug. I also think it's important for college students to know the risks of drinking alcohol in excess and taking acetaminophen! Many view it as a hangover cure/prevention method, but it can actually do you more harm than good in the case.

I wonder if there is more of a risk to your liver's health in taking small doses of acetaminophen very frequently (let's say 2 or 3 pills a day, four times a week) versus eight or more acetaminophen pills in a 24-hour period. I also wonder if your body ever gets any better at processing the drug so that one can build up a tolerance and take more of it while avoiding liver damage. I found this information from the FDA on acetaminophen (http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm168830.htm) which explains some dangers associated with liver damage and taking too much of the drug. I also think it's important for college students to know the risks of drinking alcohol in excess and taking acetaminophen! Many view it as a hangover cure/prevention method, but it can actually do you more harm than good in the case.

I wonder if there is more of a risk to your liver's health in taking small doses of acetaminophen very frequently (let's say 2 or 3 pills a day, four times a week) versus eight or more acetaminophen pills in a 24-hour period. I also wonder if your body ever gets any better at processing the drug so that one can build up a tolerance and take more of it while avoiding liver damage. I found this information from the FDA on acetaminophen (http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm168830.htm) which explains some dangers associated with liver damage and taking too much of the drug. I also think it's important for college students to know the risks of drinking alcohol in excess and taking acetaminophen! Many view it as a hangover cure/prevention method, but it can actually do you more harm than good in the case.

Greg, those are good questions, especially since it looks like with NSAIDs that there is an effect of taking doses frequently vs acetaminophen where you see the risk when you overdose. Courtney, a reason your roommate may be more likely to take medicine than you could be because she has a lower pain tolerance. She may be more sensitive to pain, which means she has more aches and pains than another person might causing her to take more medicine. She should just be careful to keep track of how much she is taking. When people have a low pain tolerance they are at more of a risk for becoming addicted to pain killers as they are always looking to them to take care of the problem. This article has some effects that addiction to painkillers, a whole other can of worms, can cause: http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-over-counter-medications

I generally don't like taking any form of medication unless I really have to and it was prescribed by a physician. I especially don't believe in pain relievers. i think that pain is a construct of the mind and you can control how much pain you feel. This article http://saveyourself.ca/articles/pain-is-an-opinion.php talks about wether or not pain is an opinion and if you cann control how muchpain you feel.

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