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3 deaths in Iqaluit related to prescription Tylenol overdose

Nunavut’s coroner’s office has issued a public warning about the dangers of Tylenol consumption combined with alcohol after three deaths in the capital in the last eight months.

'People are assuming that because it's available over the counter it's safe to take at any dose'

Padma Suramala, Nunavut's chief coroner, says lethal amounts of Tylenol are available over the counter. (Vincent Desrosiers/CBC)

Nunavut’s coroner’s office has issued a public warning about the dangers of Tylenol combined with alcohol after three deaths in Iqaluit — a city of about 7,000 people — in the past eight months. 

The deaths include a 45-year-old woman who died in March from Tylenol toxicity in Iqaluit.

The next month, a 71-year-old elder died at the Qikiqtani General Hospital due to Tylenol toxicity and liver failure.

Then this month, a 45-year-old man died due to Tylenol overdose with liver and kidney failure.

Padma Suramala says upon investigation, all three of those who died had received prescriptions for Tylenol.

A fourth suspected Tylenol overdose is now under investigation.

‘Risk of harm’ is high

The coroner says people need to know more about the effects of the common drug and what happens when it is taken in combination with alcohol.

“Education needs to take place,” the coroner says. “When the doctor prescribes the medication, he [or she] needs to educate the person: how many pills he can take and how many he cannot take, whether he can mix with alcohol or when he's intoxicated, when they can take it or not.”

Tylenol is effective in treating pain but the risk of harm, when used in error is high, Suramala says.

“People are assuming that because it's available over the counter it's safe to take at any dose,” she says.

But lethal amounts of the drug are available over the counter.

Last year, new warning labels were added to bottles of Tylenol sold in the U.S. to alert people that the popular painkiller contains acetaminophen that can damage the liver when taken in excess.

The move came as Johnson & Johnson, Tylenol's maker, faced more than 85 personal injury lawsuits in U.S. federal court that blame Tylenol for liver injuries and deaths. 

Suramala says any type of Tylenol can be lethal when taken over the limit.

“Exceeding the daily maximum dose can cause liver failure and death. When taken in combination with alcohol, lower doses of Tylenol can cause fatalities.”

The coroner’s office has recommended the Nunavut’s health department develop further prescribing and monitoring protocols to prevent similar deaths in the future.  

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