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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Acetaminophen May Get New Warnings on Labels

Aired September 20, 2002 - 08:42   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Now to check in for our "House Call" this morning. Some popular over-the-counter pain killers might soon carry stronger warning labels. The FDA wants to alert consumers about potential dangers and our medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, here to tell us all about it -- good morning to you.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

HEMMER: What are they saying?

GUPTA: Well, I'm not here to scare anybody, I will tell you that first of all.

We're talking about acetaminophen, which is one of the most common pain killers out there. You find it in Tylenol, one of the most common medications, also several other products.

What people have known for quite sometime is that Tylenol, acetaminophen, the active ingredient, can potentially be a dangerous substance. In fact, it is one of the most common reasons people overdose. About 100 people a year actually die from this.

What we are talking about is liver failure. That is what acetaminophen can actually cause. Now, the FDA has known about this for some time. There is now an advisory committee recommending that there be some new labeling instructions, Hey, listen, we know it can potentially be a dangerous substance. Let's make sure the consumers actually know about that. They have a few recommendations, you can see them here. Basically, they want to highlight the active ingredients that are actually in Tylenol. They want to let the consumer know not to exceed the recommended daily dose. I want to talk to you more about that, and not to take multiple products that all contain acetaminophen. That can build up over time.

Bill, one of the things people don't know is when you're talking about acetaminophen, Tylenol, actually I have some right here, and this is eight 500 milligram tablets. This is the most anybody should take over a given day. If you take this all at one time -- I don't know if you can see that in my hand there -- but if you take that all at one given time, this could potentially cause liver failure, which could potentially lead to a need for liver transplantation, could possibly cause death. So this, what I am holding in my hand, you can buy a hundred of these tablets at the store -- I bought this just yesterday.

HEMMER: Everybody has them, it seems like, too. I am just curious, why now? Why would the FDA come out with this now, as opposed to -- we've been using it for years in the first place.

GUPTA: We've been using it again, and again, I'll reinforce, 100 million people use this, and usually, for the most part, it is safe, but it has been out there for some time, so finally an advisory committee is actually looking at that. I don't -- I guess 100 deaths a year, I guess, is enough of a reason for them to say, we need to make it a little bit more stringent.

HEMMER: So I am your patient, you are my doctor. What should I keep in mind when taking acetaminophen?

GUPTA: First of all, keep in mind, as we are told in medical school, that Tylenol could potentially be a dangerous substance. It -- and there are people who are at more risk than others, people who have preexisting liver conditions, such as somebody who has Hepatitis, somebody who is a heavy drinker, somebody who has had problems with their liver should think twice about taking Tylenol or talk to their doctor about it.

And if you are taking Tylenol, you are taking a lot of it -- you suddenly got sick and you decided you needed to take a lot of Tylenol to sort of get over the hump of illness, which a lot of people do, Bill, if you have any problems, you start feel stomach cramping, if you notice any yellowness in your skin or your eyes, you know that could be one of the early signs of liver problems. That is something to be certainly aware of as well.

HEMMER: You know, if you were a really good doctor, you would get rid of this stuff that I have right now.

GUPTA: Yes.

HEMMER: Just a question of time -- thank you, pal.

GUPTA: Good seeing you, Bill.

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