Today I’m taking off my business analyst hat and wearing my consumer hat…
The news that some of the most commonly used drugs in US cause acute liver failure took the news pipelines by a storm this week, and as someone who has lost two loved ones to liver failure (one from complications of cancer, and one from complications of Hepatitis after blood transfusion, if you must know), I have some knowledge of the nasty side effects and the downward spiral caused by liver disease. Think about it as slow poisoning... you really don’t want to die from liver disease.
The reported problems are linked to acetaminophen, the active ingredient in one of the most common household drugs in US – Tylenol. Acetaminophen is also used in Vicodin, Percocet, and other prescription drugs in conjunction with other narcotics. An outside advisory panel to the FDA has recommended banning Vicodin and Percocet, reducing the highest dosage in Tylenol, and changing the cautionary labels for over-the-counter medications.
Some of the information contained in the reports is mind boggling.
-- Acetaminophen is the leading cause of acute liver failure in US. And liver damage caused by acetaminophen has reduced the number of organs available for transplant. We’re talking about highly trusted medications taken for convenience. Hardly anyone reads the fine print on Tylenol, it’s supposed to make the pain go away, not add complications.
-- The FDA has known about this for over 10 years and it took an outside panel to raise the red flag on it just this week. So much for our trust in the FDA (remember the Vioxx fiasco?).
-- Almost 25 billion doses of all acetaminophen products were sold in 2008 (80+ doses per living person in US!), and Vicodin (the horse-killer pill), is the most prescribed medicine in US.
Am I the only one surprised by all this? How did a strong pain killer like Vicodin become the number one prescribed medicine in US? Have we become such sedation medication nation that we constantly need to calm our nerves with addictive pain killers?
And what did ever happen to preventative care? A simple google search of “exercise” and “pain management” results in pages and pages of information about various forms of pain management simply through exercising. It turns out endorphins, the natural compounds in our bodies that are produced during strenuous exercise, are the best natural pain killers available to us (and for free).
But don’t count on drug companies to push preventative care over selling drugs. We are talking about big money. Total sales of acetaminophen drugs reached $2.6 billion last year, 80 percent of that was from over-the-counter drug sales. And according to a study by York university researchers, the amount of advertising spent by drug companies is double that of R&D. They are serious about selling drugs!
Although all companies involved with these medications claim cooperation with the FDA, they sure are going to fight this. And they definitely have the muscle to do so. Drug companies employ 1100 lobbyists in Washington, over 10 lobbyists per senator.
The best thing that comes out of this report is consumer awareness with news outlets discussing the perils of mixing over-the-counter drugs and reminding consumers to read that fine print.
But next time you reach out for the Tylenol for a headache, or feel your back bothering you, turn off the TV and the computer, and go for a walk with your husband after dinner, take the kids to the park for a round of baseball, call your friends and go for a bike ride. Not only you'll stay in shape, but your liver will love you for it.