TRICARE officials caution against overuse of common pain medication

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Officials at the Food and Drug Administration are limiting the amount of acetaminophen allowed in prescription pain medications.

The ruling came with renewed warnings that exceeding the recommended daily dose of 4,000 milligrams can lead to serious liver problems.

Acetaminophen is one of the most common pain-relieving medications. The new limit of 325 milligrams per capsule or pill is less than half the amount now found in some prescription medications. Drug manufacturers have three years to comply with this new rule, which only applies to prescription medications, not over-the-counter drugs.

Rear Adm. Thomas McGinnis, chief of TRICARE pharmacy operations, said beneficiaries should not overreact to the ruling, but should be aware of the danger.

"The amount of acetaminophen in prescription painkillers is not enough to cause problems on its own," Admiral McGinnis said. "But beneficiaries should be careful when they also take over-the-counter pain medication to treat symptoms like headache or fever."

Many common over-the-counter painkillers or cough medications contain acetaminophen. They will not be affected by this FDA ruling. Taking these medications together with prescription painkillers containing acetaminophen could exceed the FDA's recommended daily dose, possibly causing liver damage.

"It's probably best for beneficiaries to take only one medication containing acetaminophen at a time," Admiral McGinnis said. "If prescribed a medication with acetaminophen, find a different over-the-counter drug to treat other symptoms."

There are ways TRICARE beneficiaries can make sure they don't take too much acetaminophen. Beneficiaries should always know every medication they are taking, including over-the-counter drugs, and inform their pharmacist or doctor of these medications when obtaining a prescription. Beneficiaries should take all medications at the prescribed dosage and time, and not use alcohol with medications containing acetaminophen.

If beneficiaries have questions about acetaminophen content in a specific medication, they should consult their pharmacist. Beneficiaries who use TRICARE pharmacy home delivery have phone access to a pharmacist 24/7, at 1-877-363-1303.

For more information about the FDA ruling on acetaminophen, go to