Acetaminophen, a pain-reliever and fever-reducer, is safe and effective when used as directed, but taking more than the recommended dose can lead to liver damage and death.
Justin Barney was a strapping college student. At nearly 6 feet tall and 185 pounds, he was on the practice squad at the University of Oregon football team. And when he wasn’t playing football, there was basketball and baseball and even rodeo bull riding.
All this changed one weekend – what should have been a very ordinary weekend. Justin’s mother, Lia Barney-Thomsen, recalled that her son had complained of back pain from a recent bone fracture. When Justin took a 10-hour trip to visit his father one weekend, the pain worsened. He saw a local doctor who prescribed a prescription painkiller but Justin was reluctant to take it. Instead, he thought over-the-counter acetaminophen would be the safer choice.
What Justin didn’t realize was that acetaminophen, when taken in large doses, can be deadly. Over the course of three days, Justin consumed about 30 acetaminophen pills.
“There is a false sense of security that a medication that you can get off the drugstore shelf will be safe,” says Lia. “Justin wasn’t drinking alcohol or taking other medications while he was taking the acetaminophen and he had no other health conditions. And yet, his liver was destroyed in less than 72 hours. He had absolutely no warning signs. In one weekend, he went from being completely healthy to having liver failure. That should not have happened.”
Justin’s decline was rapid. He died within one week of entering the intensive care unit. He was just 23 years old.
His mother is on a mission to sound the alarm about the dangers of acetaminophen when not taken as directed. Acetaminophen is found in more than 600 different over-the-counter and prescription medicines, including generic and store brand pain relievers, fever reducers, and sleep aids as well as cough, cold and allergy medicines.
“What happened to Justin was not some random occurrence. He, like millions of other people, took a simple and widely popular pain medication,” says Lia. “My hope is that people will gain a greater understanding about the dangers of taking too much acetaminophen.”
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