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Pain Management Health Center

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Many Unaware of OTC Pain Relievers' Ingredients, Risks

Poll Shows Many Americans Don’t Know the Active Ingredients, Side Effects of Popular Pain Medicines

Many People Don’t Read Labels

Only 41% of people surveyed said they read labels to determine the ingredients they contained.

“When you have pain, you aren’t paying attention to what’s in a medicine, you just want relief,” King says. “People think, ‘If I can buy it without a prescription, it can’t be harmful.’”

But they’re wrong, because exceeding the maximum dose of acetaminophen can cause liver damage, she says.

Also, sometimes it’s hard to read labels, because on some drugs, acetaminophen is called APAP.

“It’s confusing, so even if a person is looking for acetaminophen on the label, she wouldn’t know APAP is the same ingredient in her Tylenol,” King says.

Consumers surveyed also said they would like to see more clear warnings about potential liver damage on packages.

The researchers interviewed 45 people in six focus groups in Chicago and Atlanta to evaluate consumer knowledge and attention to product information on labels. They say 44% of the people, all English speakers, had limited literacy, reading at or below the sixth-grade level. The researchers focused on acetaminophen because overdosing on the drug has surpassed viral hepatitis as the leading cause of acute liver failure and contributes to more than 30,000 hospitalizations a year.

One-half to two-thirds of such overdoses are unintentional, which the study authors say is likely caused by “poor understanding of medication labeling or failure to recognize the consequences of exceeding the recommended maximum daily dosage.”

The study is published in the May 2011 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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