Public Health: Acetaminophen (APAP) Hepatoxicity – Isn’t it Time for APAP to Go Away?

William M. Lee

Acetaminophen (APAP) is the most commonly used drug for the treatment of pain and fever around the world. At the same time, APAP is capable of causing dose-related hepatocellular necrosis, responsible for nearly 500 deaths annually in the U.S. alone, as well as 100,000 calls to US Poison Control Centers, 50,000 emergency room visits and 10,000 hospitalizations per year. As an over-the-counter and prescription product (with opioids), APAP toxicity dwarfs all other prescription drugs as a cause for acute liver failure in the United States and Europe, but is not regulated in any significant way. This review will highlight the ongoing controversy as to the proper role for this ubiquitous pain reliever: its history, pathogenesis, clinical challenges in recognition and management, and current regulatory status and propose a new solution to a 50- year-old problem.

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