California considers declaring common pain killer carcinogen

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A fight is coming to California over whether to list one of the world’s most common over-the-counter drugs as a carcinogen, echoing recent high-profile battles over things like alcohol and coffee.

The drug is acetaminophen, known outside the U.S. as paracetamol and used to treat pain and fevers. It is the basis for more than 600 prescription and over-the-counter medications for adults and children, found in well-known brands like Tylenol, Excedrin, Sudafed, Robitussin and Theraflu.

Acetaminophen has been available in the U.S. without a prescription since 1955. Concerns about its potential link to cancer come from its relationship to another drug: phenacetin. That drug, once a common treatment for headaches and other ailments, was banned by the FDA in 1983 because it caused cancer.

State regulators have reviewed 133 studies about acetaminophen, all of which were published in peer-reviewed journals. Some studies reported an increased risk of some types of cancers, while others did not. Overall, the review noted acetaminophen has been difficult to examine because it is hard to isolate it from other variables that could contribute to cancer, such as smoking.

A state law known as Proposition 65 says California must warn people of any chemical known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. The state’s list has grown to about 900 chemicals, including toxic pesticides and flame retardants, and is more extensive than any in the U.S. Some critics say California regulators have been overzealous, requiring warning labels for countless products that confuse instead of inform consumers when the risk of cancer is disputed.

Supporters of Prop 65 say it protects not only Californians but consumers nationwide by compelling manufacturers to make products safer.

Evidence for acetaminophen’s link to cancer has been weak enough that the International Agency for Research on Cancer declined to list it as a possible carcinogen following reviews in 1990 and 1999. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned state officials that labeling acetaminophen as cancer-causing would be “false and misleading” and also illegal under federal law.

A panel of scientists appointed by the governor can add chemicals to this list. In 2011, the panel voted to make acetaminophen a “high priority” for consideration because it believed there was relevant evidence to consider, according to Sam Delson, spokesman for the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

The review process has been slow, but the panel is scheduled to have a public hearing on the listing this spring after the public comment period closes on Jan. 27.

“It’s a difficult issue because it’s a very commonly used drug. But that doesn’t make any difference. That’s not what our mandate is,” said Thomas Mack, chairman of the Carcinogen Identification Committee and a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California.

Adding a chemical to the list can have broad repercussions. After the state listed glyphosate — widely known as the weed killer Roundup — as a carcinogen in 2017, a jury ordered the company that makes Roundup to pay a California couple with cancer more than $2 billion. A judge later reduced that award to $87 million. That’s just one of the estimated 13,000 pending lawsuits involving the chemical.

That’s one reason why the industry is pushing back on a potential listing. The Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a trade group representing over-the-counter medicines and dietary supplements, conducted its own review and found most studies suggest no risk for most forms of cancer, although some studies did show increased risk for kidney, liver and some forms of blood cancer.

The association urged California regulators to have a “cautious interpretation” of studies that show an increased risk of cancer.

Some listings in California require warning labels. But the state has made exceptions. Alcohol has been listed as a carcinogen since 1988. But instead of warning labels, the state directs the alcohol industry to provide signs to California retailers to post where alcohol is sold.

Acrylamide, a byproduct of roasting coffee beans, has been listed as a carcinogen since 1990. But when a court ruling would have resulted in warning labels for coffee, state regulators stepped in and exempted the drink.

———

This story has corrected the spelling of acrylamide.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Blockades remain in place as Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs returning to B.C.

Hereditary chiefs from Wet’suwet’en First Nation are expected to return to British… Continue reading

Fort Macleod, Alta., to get special advance screening of new ‘Ghostbusters’ film

There will be something strange in the neighbourhood of Fort Macleod, Alta.,… Continue reading

Hundreds turn up at Coldest Night of Year walk in Red Deer

It wasn’t the coldest night of the year, which probably helped the… Continue reading

Police in Saskatoon shoot two dogs that attacked man, then advanced on officers

SASKATOON — Police in Saskatoon say officers had to open fire at… Continue reading

13-year-old Maskwacis teen missing

Maskwacis RCMP are asking for public assistance to locate 13-year-old Rebecca Soosay.… Continue reading

Fashion Fridays: The 8 best quality online stores! Shop the ultimate sales

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Your community calendar

Feb. 19 A Liberation of Holland event is being held at the… Continue reading

Wranglers win wild Game 1 double OT thriller over Red Deer Vipers

The best-of-seven series continues Sunday in Sylvan Lake

Kings and Queens basketball triumph over Ambrose, keep playoff hopes alive

Guard Sandra Garica-Bernal sets new Queens all-time steals mark

Five things to watch for in the Canadian business world in the coming week

TORONTO — Five things to watch for in the Canadian business world… Continue reading

View of a longtime economist: Slower growth but no recession

WASHINGTON — In this high-profile election year, the U.S. economy boasts an… Continue reading

Amy, chasing: Klobuchar, already beating odds, faces uphill climb

WASHINGTON — It’s been a running gag ever since she launched her… Continue reading

B.C. money laundering inquiry to begin amid hopes for answers, accountability

VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s attorney general hopes an inquiry into money laundering… Continue reading

Russian spy case documents missing or destroyed, Canada’s info watchdog finds

OTTAWA — Federal officials lost or possibly destroyed sensitive records about the… Continue reading

Most Read