Study: Americans don't understand painkiller risks

Kim LaCapria

A small scale study designed to measure consumers' knowledge of over-the-counter painkillers and their risks and ingredients revealed a dangerous level of ignorance regarding the common medications.

Americans may casually down common remedies like Advil, Tylenol or Motrin for every day maladies like headaches, menstrual cramps, backaches or other chronic aches and pains, but few are aware of potential, serious adverse effects. Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in many Tylenol formulations, is now the leading cause of death due liver failure in the US, as noted in the study carried out by Tylenol's parent company. Researchers say many people are not aware of the risk of death and believe the OTC formulation to be "safe" because it is available without a prescription.

In the study of 45 adults, researchers discovered:

  • 31% knew that Tylenol contains acetaminophen.
  • 75% knew Bayer contains aspirin.
  • 47% knew Motrin contains ibuprofen.
  • 19% knew Aleve’s active ingredient is naproxen sodium.
  • 19% knew Advil contains ibuprofen.
“It’s incredibly alarming,” says Wolf, who has worked as a paid consultant for McNeil Consumer Healthcare. “People may unintentionally misuse these medicines to a point where they cause severe liver damage.”