This revealing podcast from This American Life tells the story of the acetaminophen warning that should have been — but wasn't. For decades. According to the show, fairly small overdoses of this popular pain medicine (the active ingredient in Tylenol) could be quite dangerous to a patient's liver, or even fatal. But the public remained largely unaware of the danger because of government inaction and industry advertising.
A summary of the show explains:
Reporter Sean Cole tells the history of getting warning labels onto acetaminophen bottles.
In 1977 an FDA advisory panel recommended a warning about liver damage. It took 32 years
before the FDA took their advice and mandated a label. As Cole notes: "The drug approval
process is usually slow but not usually this slow. The FDA began with acetaminophen over
40 years ago in 1972. In that time, science has mapped the human genome, eradicated
smallpox, we’ve cloned a sheep. And yet we still have not come up with final rules for safe
usage and labeling of one of the most popular drugs in the country, of which more than 20
billion doses are sold each year."
It's an hour-long radio show, but gripping, and worth a listen.