Warn young adults in your family that acetaminophen misuse can be fatal

She was 19 – bright, talented, and an excellent student. But she made a fatal mistake.


After exceeding the recommended dosage of Extra Strength Tylenol for three weeks to relieve toothache pain, Oklahoma University coed Madalyn Byrne died last year when her liver failed due to acetaminophen toxicity.

Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon story. Young people out on their own for the first time are often unaware of the potential danger in exceeding the recommended dosage of acetaminophen – a painkiller that’s so common and seemingly benign they might never read warnings posted on the product packaging.

A few years ago I told you about a similar tragedy with a 23-year-old Philadelphia man named Marcus Trunk who began taking a prescription drug that contained acetaminophen to treat a sprained wrist. When he developed flu-like symptoms, emergency room doctors gave him further doses of acetaminophen. Within a few days, Marcus died of liver failure caused by acetaminophen overdose.

If you have children or grandchildren who are young adults just starting their lives away from home, don’t assume they’re reading precautions on common over-the-counter medications. Warn them that even the most familiar drugs are potentially dangerous.

In addition, coffee intake has been shown to increase the formation of a toxic metabolite of acetaminophen. It might take quite a bit of coffee to prompt such a reaction, but if someone such as Madalyn is on the verge of acetaminophen overdose, a double-espresso eye-opener on the way to an early class might be all it takes to push past the toxic limit.

You can find information about an effective natural antidote for acetaminophen poisoning in the e-Alert “Safety Measured” (12/29/05).

“OU Sophomore Dies of Acetaminophen Overdose” Andrew W. Griffin, The Norman  Transcript, 2/28/08, normantranscript.com