According to the FDA, acetaminophen – the active ingredient in Tylenol and numerous over-the-counter drugs – was the leading cause of acute liver failure in Americans between 1998 and 2003. There is no reason to think this has changed since.
Every year, 78,000 people go to the emergency room from intentional or accidental acetaminophen overdose; 33,000 are hospitalized, at last count 458 die (2006 data). The problem has gotten so bad that the FDA has asked doctors to stop prescribing any medication that has more than 325 mg of acetaminophen per dose.
Acetaminophen is dangerous because just a small extra amount can create a dangerous overdose: twice the maximum safe dose taken over just several days could cause severe liver damage. Sometimes, according to the former head of the Drug Information Center at the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania, “the difference between a safe dose and a dangerous dose is two Extra Strength Tylenol tablets.”
The FDA has been aware of the acetaminophen problem since 1977, when an expert advisory panel recommended that drugs like Tylenol carry a warning label about liver damage. Yet the agency refused to implement the warning label until a full thirty-two years later, in 2009.
Given the lack of FDA action, it would make sense for the media to publicize the dangers of such a common and ubiquitously available over-the-counter product. But the New York Times blames supplements instead. When the New York Times published an article on liver damage and health products, they said not one word about Tylenol or acetaminophen. They instead put the blame solely on nutritional supplements.
The article, “Spike in Harm to Liver Is Tied to Dietary Aids,” (http://nyti.ms/1nH3gKo) cites some seemingly alarming statistics: based on a recent study presented by the Drug-Induced Liver Injury Network at a November 2013 conference, “nearly 20% of drug-related liver injuries” that require a hospital visit can be attributed to dietary supplements.
First, note that the above quote mistakenly equates dietary supplements with drugs. How can “drug-related liver injuries” be attributable to supplements? This could be either sloppy journalism (dietary supplements are in a different regulatory category – if they were drugs, then they’d be regulated as drugs!), or a deliberate political statement: after all, the aim of anti-supplement politicians and entities like Senator Durbin is to regulate supplements like drugs.
Second, the article fails even to mention what caused the remaining 80% of liver-damage hospital visits – drugs, especially acetaminophen. And once you look at the complete data from 2004 through 2012, the percent of visits attributable to supplements falls to 15%.
What’s going on here? With drugs causing the most liver damage (and let’s not forget that prescription drugs in general are the fourth leading cause of death in America, based on hospital data alone [http://bit.ly/WIKB9H]), why is the New York Times attacking dietary supplements?
After all, at the very same conference where the cited study was presented, there were eighteen sessions on liver damage due to acetaminophen – and only two presentations on dietary supplements and liver damage.
We are sorry to say that it may be linked to the pharmaceutical industry’s advertising clout, which the NYT depends upon. In its 2012 annual report, the NYT stated the obvious fact that it depends for its survival on advertising revenue. In 2012, Big Pharma spent $90 million on print advertising. The dietary supplement industry spends far less: $20 million on print advertising in 2010. Due to the FDA and FTC’s regulation of health claims and gag orders on dietary supplement advertising, there’s little incentive for supplement companies to advertise their products and anyway they have far less money with which to do so.
Given the rapid decline of the print industry, newspapers are facing increasing competition for advertising dollars; a pharmaceutical company miffed by an anti-drug NYT article could take their massive advertising budget elsewhere, whereas an article that bashes dietary supplements would be looked upon favorably. After all, drug companies are so scared of “competition” from dietary supplements that they’re beginning to swallow up small supplement companies!
For the NYT, the choice between attacking dietary supplements or dangerous drugs is easy. Given the media’s aversion to the truth about natural health, the importance of grassroots advocacy grows daily.