Friday, September 11, 2009

The Poison Lady

The Stiletto Gang is thrilled to welcome Luci Hansson Zahray, aka The Poison Lady. A popular speaker on the mystery circuit, Luci's lectures on common household drugs and insecticides and their detectability (or undetectability, as the case may be) has made her the go-to girl on all things poison. Lucy is a toxicologist and pharmacist in Texas and talks about her one of her favorite topics today here at our humble blog...Tylenol. Welcome, Luci!

TYLENOL! Anyone who has ever heard me speak, knows I consider Tylenol (acetaminophen)to be the most dangerous drug in the home. Its not the most toxic, but it is the most dangerous. Acetaminophen is widely perceived to be safe. It is not. The lethal dose 50 percent of the time (LD50) has been lowered 3 times in the last 20 years: from 20 grams to 12grams to 8 grams (16 extra strength tablets equals 8 grams). The dose currently considered to be safe is 4 grams per day; however the newest recommendations will lowering the dose to less than 3 gms.

Because acetaminophen is a "hidden" extra ingredient in many products, it is extremely easy for someone to overdose. Many over the counter sleep products, cough and cold, sinus, headache and arthritis medications contain acetaminophen. Percocet, Vicodin, Lortab and Darvocet all contain either 325 or 500 milli-grams per tablet. With a recommended dose of 1 to 2 of those tablets every 4 to 6 hours, the maximum acetaminophen dose is readily exceeded. Individuals who abuse pain medications will reach toxic levels of acetaminophen long before toxic levels of narcotics are reached.

Sulfhydryl, SH, which given rotten eggs their smell are necessary in the metabolism of acetaminophen. In overdoses, acetaminophen depletes available sulfhydrl groups in liver cells, causing cell death and hepatic necrosis. After an overdose the patient may be asymphtomatic or may have mild nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain for 24 hours. The next 48 to 72 hours are generally without symphtoms; after that irreversible liver damage occurs. Death, in acute overdoses, from liver failure is painful and prolonged. Acetylcystine, a sylfhydryl donator, is used as an antidote if the overdose is caught in the first 72 hours.

Because of it's general precepcition of safety acetaminophen is often employed in suicide attemps destroies your liver. Acetaminophen is synergistic with alcohol. I love trivia about poison; cabbage decreases the effectiveness (but not the toxicity) of acetaminophen. Since this blog is supposed to be about poison.... consider acetaminophen one of the 50 ways to leave your lover: "Oh honey, you look like you have had a hard day. Sit down and I will bring you a drink and some Tylenol."

Luci Hansson Zahray


  1. Luci-
    I've heard your poison talk several times, but I never stop learning from it! And it definitely made me look at tylenol in whole new way...


  2. Luci, you rock! Thanks for this most interesting and MOST important information. Lonnie

  3. Luci, what a great column! When I married my hubby, he advised that I stop taking anything with acetaminophen. My mom was always a big fan of Excedrin (which contains acetaminophen), and it was the only thing I'd ever found that kicked my headaches. But I don't take it anymore. I stick to Ibuprofen and only when really necessary. Scary how so many commonplace OTC drugs can be fatal in smaller doses than most realize. Anyway, keep up the good work, oh glorious Poison Lady! ;-)


  4. Luci, I heard you speak at a meeting of the Dallas Area Romance Authors a couple of years ago, and I haven't bought acetaminophen since. I tell everyone to avoid it, just to be safe.

    Susan, I, too, used to take Excedrin, but I think it was the addition of caffeine to the pain killer that made it so effective for me. Now I take ibuprofen and half a no-doz. Not awesome for the stomach, but less likely to kill me (I hope).

  5. An insightfull post. Will definitely help.

    Karim - Positive thinking