If you have a pulse, you are familiar with Johnson & Johnson’s pain reliever, Tylenol. I’ll bet you anything if Tylenol was a person, it would be one of the 20 most recognizable people in the world. I project Tylenol just above Lady Gaga and just below Bill Clinton.
Johnson & Johnson’s legendary marketing machine has done an amazing job of promoting the brand and developed several versions of Tylenol, including liquids, solids, extra strength, and children’s varieties. Most of us have blithely thrown back Tylenol to overcome serious and not-so-serious pain.
No one is calling for a Tylenol recall. Used properly by an educated public, it is a great product. The question is whether Tylenol has soft-pedaled the risk of liver injury.
With social media and everything else in the era, we hear so many statistics spouted out that no one is ever paying attention anymore to the ones that really matter. So here’s the question: how many people went to the hospital last year with a Tylenol overdose, and how many people died from a Tylenol overdose? Think about it a second and make a good-faith guess. The answer is after the jump.
- 2022 Post Script: These Tylenol liver damage lawsuits never got off the ground. But in 2022, Tylenol autism lawsuits are being filed and there is some science to support these claims
The answer is 56,000 emergency room visits (26,000 hospitalizations, so most of these were actual problems) and 500 deaths from acetaminophen overdoses. Pretty crazy.
Here is a little Tylenol history and a more detailed explanation of the problem.
Tylenol Recalls: Too Many To Count
The very first Tylenol recall, in 1982, set the standard for drug recalls. Seven people in Chicago had died, and their deaths were linked to cyanide-laced Extra Strength Tylenol. The manufacturer recalled 31 million bottles within a week. The manufacturer discovered intentional contamination and acted swiftly to prevent further harm. That was back in the halcyon days for Johnson and Johnson when it really was viewed as the gold standard for drug companies that did things the right way and still made money hand over fist. That now seems like lifetimes ago now for J&J. I can’t emphasize the point enough. In a dog bites man type story, even the Wall Street Journal has taken to mocking J&J for its endless recalls.
Perhaps many of these recalls had little to do with patient safety. Fair enough. But where there is smoke, there is often fire. If you are not taking care of the product, it is symptomatic of a larger disease. These recalls made it easy to believe that J&J was not minding the store in advising people of the risk of liver-related injury with Tylenol.
Tylenol Liver Injuries
Johnson & Johnson has been well aware of the propensity for people using Tylenol to suffer from liver problems. Acetaminophen, including Tylenol, is estimated to be responsible for over half of all liver failures in the United States. These injuries have been shown to occur even at the allowed dosage, as instructed by Johnson & Johnson on the label. Many Tylenol products contain too much active ingredient, which causes significant risks to users.
Signs of an acetaminophen overdose include:
- Unusual perspiration
- Unusual bruises or bleeding
- Loss of appetite
- Pain in the right side of the stomach
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes
Overdoses cause over 500 deaths and 56,000 emergency room visits every year in the United States. One 2005 study reported that 27% of those patients who overdosed on acetaminophen died without a liver transplant, and 8% received a liver transplant. Another study, from January 2012 in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, concludes that patients are at a higher risk for injury from staggered overdoses than from a one-time overdose. A staggered overdose was defined as a patient who took two or more doses over eight hours with a cumulative overdose of over 4 grams per day. This study highlights the dangers of acetaminophen, even to casual users.