Don’t kill the painkiller, educate the people
- 29 May 2014
- New Scientist
- Who killed off aspirin ? I take 75mgs every day to stave off a stromke,I take 600mgs with Codeine 8mg if I have real pain. Aspirin is cheap and can come enteric coated if you have stomach problems, which means it is released in the gut not stomach. Radical
WHOEVER first described the UK and US as two nations divided by a common language probably wasn’t thinking about a
molecule called N-acetyl-p-aminophenol. But there is possibly no better example of the cultural divide. Brits call it
paracetamol; Americans call it acetaminophen. And attitudes towards the painkiller are equally divergent.
People in the UK are aware that a paracetamol overdose can kill. That goes back to 1998, when the government restricted
the number of tablets that could be bought in one purchase and ran an information campaign explaining the change. The
measures prevent an estimated 1000 deaths a year.
US awareness is much lower. When investigative journalism group Propublica revealed last year that 1500 Americans die
from accidental overdoses annually, it was big news.
The drug is now facing further problems over safety and effectiveness (see “What’s wrong with the world’s favourite
painkiller?“), leading some to call for it to be withdrawn from over-the-counter sale.
That would be an overreaction. As the British experience shows, people can understand and act on nuanced messages.
Paracetamol doesn’t need to be banned: people simply need to be made aware of its limitations and dangers so that they
can make the right call.
This article appeared in print under the headline “Don’t kill the painkiller”
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