Warning on acetaminophen

By Philip Wagenaar, MD
This item appears on page 56 of the February 2014 issue.

Anyone who develops a rash, blister or some other skin reaction while taking acetaminophen should stop using the drug and seek medical care immediately because the painkiller poses the risk for three rare but potentially fatal skin disorders, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) announced.

Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in many prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. It also appears in combination drug products to treat conditions ranging from allergies to sleeplessness. The agency put all products containing acetaminophen on its list of drugs to monitor after it received reports of severe skin reactions in the last three months of 2012.

The three serious adverse reactions that patients and clinicians alike should watch out for are Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, toxic epidermal necrolysis and acute generalized exanthematous pustulosis.

The FDA advises clinicians to tell patients using acetaminophen or any other pain reliever to look for signs of serious skin reactions. To report problems with drugs containing acetaminophen, contact MedWatch (5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20852; phone 800-FDA-1088, fax 800-FDA-0178 or visit www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/medwatch/medwatch-online.htm)— Philip Wagenaar, MD