America is a nation in pain
I was reading my Consumer Reports magazine the other day and I want to share with you an article that raised some red flags.
First, for those of you who don’t know, Consumer Reports is a magazine that investigates everything that consumer’s use. Literally everything; cars, appliances food, clothes, supplements, even prescription and non-prescription drugs. They are supported by public funding, not advertising money, so they tend to be less biased in their reporting than other magazines or reporting agencies.
The article that has me wide-eyed is titled "Deadly Pain Pills." This article jumped out at me for a lot of reasons but what held my attention were the statistics.
The wrong kind of pain "relief"
Did you know that approximately 17,000 people die each year from overdoses of the drugs known as opioids? That’s about 46 people a day. Opioids are drugs like Oxycontin, Percocet, and Vicodin — typically prescribed to people who are recovering from surgery or suffering from cancer. The article states that the prescribed use of opioids has increased by 300% in the last 10 years. Vicodin and other drugs containing hydrocodone are now the most prescribed medications in the United States.
But wait! There’s more. . . Last December, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new drug called Zohydro ER. (It’s a long acting version of hydrocodone) Douglas Throckmorton, M.D., the Deputy Center Director for Regulatory Programs at the FDA, says this new drug offers an option for some people in pain and that the benefits outweigh the risks. According to Consumer Reports, attorneys general from 28 states have asked the FDA to reconsider its decision because the drug offers no real advantage over the others already on the market.
Danger within arms' reach
As I continued reading the article, I found an observation that validated my own discovery. Opioids aren’t the only culprits posing a serious threat. Acetaminophen is almost as dangerous. Close to 80,000 people a year are taken to emergency rooms for some kind of overdose of acetaminophen. This drug is the most common cause of liver failure in the United States, and most of the emergency incidents are accidental. Acetaminophen is the number one selling pain reliever in the United States, as many cold medicines, fever reducers and cough medicines have acetaminophen as an ingredient. Hence, it is very easy to ingest a toxic dose. The article relates a study where 4000 milligrams proved toxic to the liver. This equates to eight 500-milligram tablets (a.k.a. “extra-strength” pills) within a 24-hour period.
Here are a few examples from the article:
- A box of Extra Strength Tylenol contains 500 milligrams per pill and instructs users to take no more than 6 pills in 24 hours.
- A box of NyQuil Cold and Flu contains 325 milligrams per pill and instructs users to take no more than eight pills in 24 hours.
- A box of Walgreens Pain Reliever P.M. contains 500 milligrams per pill, plus a sleep aid, and instructs users to take two at bedtime.
How many of you have done all three of these at once or within a 24-hour period when you were suffering from a cold or flu? I did the math. I could have ingested 6,600 milligrams of acetaminophen within 24 hours when I had cold. That's 165% of the toxicity level!
Okay, yes. I am still alive, and luckily I don’t get sick often. My liver can repair itself as long as I don’t continue to abuse it. But the fact remains I took a major gamble on my health just to treat of a common cold. I am certain that I am not the only one to take this same risk!
An ounce of prevention
So what now? Carefully read the labels for all over-the-counter medications, and avoid mixing medications if at all possible. If you have to get a prescription, talk openly with your doctor to maintain an awareness of the risks for addiction and overdose.
Educate yourself. Do the research.
If you find a reliable source of quality research information, feel free to post a link to it in the comments below. This is an important conversation that more people should be having, so let's get it going!
Next week, I’ll talk about alternative treatments for pain.
peace and love