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Acetaminophen is the generic name of one of the most commonly used drugs to relieve pain and fever in the United States. This popular over-the-counter medication is also contained in a number of prescription medications commonly included in workers’ compensation formularies, including Vicodin(R), Percocet(R) and Ultracet (R). According to Progressive Medical, Inc.’s 2009 Drug Spending Analysis, these drugs are among the top 10 most frequently dispensed medications for workers’ compensation claims.

Acetaminophen is considered safe in small amounts. However, when used at higher doses, acetaminophen increases the risk for liver damage. According to a 2007 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate, acetaminophen is the leading cause of acute liver failure in the United States. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA), reports that acetaminophen toxicity is the cause of more than 400 deaths in the United States each year. This information has led the FDA to call into question current standards for acetaminophen dosage and usage frequency.

In June 2009, a joint meeting of three key FDA advisory committees was held to discuss acetaminophen as it relates to liver toxicity. Key recommendations from that meeting included reducing the maximum daily dose for acetaminophen (currently four grams, or 4,000 milligrams) and banning Vicodin and Percocet from the marketplace.

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