Opinion: What if Tylenol were taken off the self-service shelves?


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So is the next move by Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services, going to revolve around taking Tylenol off the pharmacy’s self-service shelves?

The question might be silly, but it serves to make a point. If Sebelius was determined to stop the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from allowing over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill to girls younger than 17, she needed to find a stronger argument than concern that 11-year-olds, about 10% of whom can become pregnant, might not understand how to use the pill.


Never mind that FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg had delved deeply into the subject and determined that girls of any age who were old enough to get pregnant were old enough to figure out proper usage of the Plan B pill. Sebelius’ argument fails when we simply look at the wide range of pharmaceuticals that can be purchased off the shelf by any 11-year-old.

Overuse of acetaminophen -- Tylenol is one brand name for this common generic pain reliever -- can be quite dangerous. As The Times reported last year, acetaminophen overdose is the leading cause of liver failure and death from liver failure in the U.S. But no one, including Sebelius, is hinting at sweeping the medication off the shelves and planting it behind the counter, demanding a prescription from anyone younger than 17.

In fact, 11-year-olds would be much less likely to purchase Plan B, since only 5% of them -- the girls who are capable of becoming pregnant, and of those, only the ones who are having unprotected sex -- would have any use for it.

Almost any over-the-counter medication can be misused, but we don’t live our lives around the assumption that it will be.


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Sebelius, teens and the morning-after pill

Doctors groups blast decision on Plan B contraception

--Karin Klein