Research shows some people, including healthcare workers and heavy alcohol users, are less likely to protect themselves from Acetaminophen risks

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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC – Reducing the number of preventable hospitalizations and emergency room visits from accidental over-the-counter acetaminophen overdose may require special efforts for regular acetaminophen users, heavy alcohol consumers and healthcare professionals. This is according to the findings of a recent study conducted at the University of Houston's College of Pharmacy and co-authored by RTI International.

"Promoting safe over-the-counter drug use is a challenge that needs interventions beyond the package insert," said Ravi Goyal, Health Outcomes Scientist with RTI Health Solutions, a business unit of RTI, and co-author of the study, "particularly because research has shown the vast majority of users do not read the label."

This research, published in Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy, used a field-based experiment to identify key patient factors that predict if a person would intend to change their behavior in order to avoid injury from over-the-counter acetaminophen use. Acetaminophen poisoning has become the most common cause of acute liver failure in the United States. While it is generally considered safer than other commonly used pain relievers, acetaminophen is an ingredient in many over-the-counter and prescription medications, which means taking combinations of these medications can result in accidental overdose.

Researchers collected 200 self-administered questionnaires at four community pharmacies in Houston, Texas. Participants were exposed to a simulated drug label with organ-specific warnings for over-the-counter acetaminophen products. Researchers then measured what each participant perceived about the risks associated with using these products and what actions they said they would take to protect themselves, such as always reading warnings, using products with more caution, and consulting a pharmacist or physician.

The study results showed that certain groups were less likely to say that they would take action to protect themselves. These groups of participants included people who did not demonstrate an increase in the perceived severity of liver damage, people who work in healthcare, people who regularly use acetaminophen, and people who drink alcohol.

"Millions of people take acetaminophen on a daily basis for pain, and accidental overdose results in thousands of preventable hospitalizations and emergency room visits each year," Goyal said. "The study findings are important for consideration in designing interventions targeted towards educating patients and improving safe use of over-the-counter products."


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