Acetaminophen linked to rare fatal skin issues

The Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition says it’s the most common drug ingredient in America

You won’t find many people who’ve never taken acetaminophen in one form or another. The Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition says it’s the most common drug ingredient in America and is found in more than 600 products sold over the counter and by prescription. Tylenol is one of the best-known acetaminophen products on store shelves worldwide. It’s been used for decades by millions to relieve pain, reduce fever and help us sleep. And 99 percent of the time there are few, if any, adverse reactions.

There is, however, one very big and very deadly exception. In early August 2013, the Food and Drug Administration reported a link between acetaminophen and rare but deadly skin conditions. During the past 40 years, more than 100 people have developed severe rashes that eventually led to death. Most of these cases involved single-ingredient acetaminophen products. The FDA will now require prescription drug makers to add warning labels about acetaminophen and possible reactions. The government agency will work with over-the-counter manufacturers to do the same.

I asked one of our Norton Healthcare physicians, James Jennings, M.D., with Norton Community Medical Associates – Brownsboro what he thought about the new FDA warning. He said, “Millions if not billions of people have taken acetaminophen. The fact that the FDA is just now issuing a warning speaks to the overall safety of the drug.”

He added, however, that drug reactions are real and can be very serious. Just about all medicines can give you some sort of reaction. And they are more common in some medications than others, especially penicillin and sulfa drugs, according to Dr. Jennings.

If a rash develops after taking acetaminophen? Dr. Jennings says stop taking the medication immediately and call your doctor. It’s better to err on the side of caution. You can find out if the product you’re taking has acetaminophen by reading the ingredient label. On prescription medication it may be listed as “APAP, “acetam” or other shortened versions of the word.

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