The state of California is debating whether to list a well-known component in many over the counter drugs as a carcinogen. The state’s Department of Environmental Health has been scrutinizing the substance acetaminophen since 2011, and a public hearing will be held before the end of January of 2020 as they conclude the process of finalizing their decision.  

Acetaminophen is widely available and generally considered safe

Acetaminophen is known for being an ingredient in Tylenol and generic versions of this common fever reducer and pain killer, but it is also contained in Sudafed, Robitussin, and many other popular medications that can be purchased in drug stores throughout the state of California and the country. Anyone can walk into a drug store and purchase these items without a prescription, and that has been the practice since 1955. 

Various trials throughout the 1990s caused the FDA to believe that the drug should not be considered a carcinogen under federal law. Other organizations who are responsible for drug research have also generally declined to list acetaminophen as a carcinogen because the evidence has been inconclusive. The substance is widely available and used, and its use does not cause health problems or death when taken as directed by healthy adults. Regulators have reviewed over 100 studies of Acetaminophen, but products containing the substance are taken with such regularity that it has been difficult to isolate it as a cause of cancer, versus smoking or other high health risk activities. 

However, acetaminophen has been known to cause liver damage in people who consume the drug in large amounts or consume alcohol while taking the drug. These effects can also be a problem for people who take certain other prescription drugs in addition to Tylenol or similar painkillers.  

Legal troubles for drug manufacturers 

The ruling is important for companies that produce and distribute to the drug, as it could lead to increased litigation and other liabilities. Another unrelated business is facing a serious backlash after the state listed a common weed killer as a carcinogen. There are now thousands of unresolved lawsuits pending against the manufacturer for their widely available weed control spray called Round Up. Millions of dollars worth of damages have already been paid out. The Consumer Healthcare Products Association is already trying to protect their interests by telling California regulators that they have already examined a large volume of studies related to the drug, and that almost all of them suggest no increased cancer risk. However, some of this research does point to an increased risk of kidney or blood cancer that is associated with acetaminophen consumption. The industry is also concerned that the new regulations could cause warning labels similar to those found on tobacco products and alcohol to be listed on the packaging of products that contain acetaminophen.  

Attorneys who practice in areas such as products liability or medical malpractice may suddenly experience a boon if state regulators decide there is enough risk to list the drug as a carcinogen in the state. People who have been consuming the drug regularly and are diagnosed with cancer may be able to make enough of a link to prevail in a civil lawsuit or convince drug manufacturers to pay them a settlement. The drug is consumed by so many people in the state that the class of potential plaintiffs is huge.

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