June 1979

Misuse of a 'Harmless' Drug

Author Affiliations

From the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation, La Jolla, Calif.

Arch Intern Med. 1979;139(6):688-689. doi:10.1001/archinte.1979.03630430064020

The capacity of the physician to do harm has long been recognized. Primum non nocere, first do not harm, is the advice that medical students receive at the beginning of their clinical responsibilities. Many of us are sometimes guilty of injuring patients—actively, by prescribing drugs we know little or nothing about; or passively, by not protesting to appropriate agencies when a drug that is widely available to the public is recognized as potentially lethal.

Acetaminophen is such a drug. It is an effective analgesic and antipyretic. Acetaminophen is increasingly being used because of an impression that it is less harmful than aspirin. In 1973, a list of acetaminophen-containing products numbered around 250. Many other products containing acetaminophen have been introduced since then. While some of them are controlled by prescription, many are available for the asking. Many of these products might be used simultaneously for relief of various symptoms. For

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