The University of British Columbia recently published a study indicating that certain over-the-counter painkillers, like Tylenol, can be taken to relieve anxiety.  The study, as explained by doctoral student and researcher Daniel Randles, discovered that Tylenol has the ability to help people deal with the stress and anxiety associated with “existential dread,” suggesting that “anxiety about finding meaning in life and feeling physical pain may be rooted in the same part of the brain.”

For instance, one part of the study, which consisted of 120 college students, involved dividing the students into two groups and giving one group of the Tylenol and the other a placebo.  Each group watched the same video of Vancouver hockey fans rioting after a Canucks’ loss during their run to the Stanley Cup.  The group that took Tylenol collectively believed that the rioters should have gotten easier punishments than what the placebo group reported.

But before running to your medicine cabinet anytime you experience tense feelings, this new study does not negate the fact that acetaminophen, the active chemical in Tylenol,  has been strongly linked to liver failure, nor does it excuse Johnson & Johnson from it’s dirty business practices.  In the past few years, there have been numerous reports of Tylenol causing liver failure and, some cases, death.

Earlier this year, a 25-year-old man died after suffering from acute liver failure after taking doses of acetaminophen.  According to a coroner’s report, the man “took . . . acetaminophen in a normal manner, that his heart and muscles were normal.”  According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, acetaminophen was the leading cause of acute liver failure from 1998 to 2003, responsible for 48 percent of cases.   

What makes acetaminophen so dangerous is that sometimes, a different metabolic pathway is taken when the body attempts to process the chemical.  This pathway is called the cytochrome P450 enzyme system.  This system produces “a toxic metabolic byproduct called NAPQI is produced that can kill liver cells.”

What’s worse about these sort of cases is that pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, who produces Tylenol, has gone as far as trying to keep the public ignorant of Tylenol-related deaths.

Another report of centers around another death of a young child. This family being from Ellensburg, Wa.  Once Johnson & Johnson caught wind of the incident, they issued a “stealth recall” to which executives heralded the recall by saying in e-mails “This was a major win for us as it limits the press that will be seen.”  

The company was eventually caught and a suit was filed against them because they knew “of defects, impurities and contamination in the children’s drugs and, yet, embarked on a ‘phantom’ or ‘stealth’ recall of these drugs to hide these problems so the general public, . . . would continue buying.”

“Drug companies need to be forced into transparency,” said Troy Rafferty, shareholder with Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor, P.A.  “There are so many drug companies that place profit margins above the patient’s well-being and each need to be held to fully accountable.”

Joshua de Leon is writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.