Acetaminophen’s Potential Role in Criminal Behavior

Have you engaged in conduct totally out of character that led to your criminal charges?  Did you take acetaminophen prior to or near the time of the incident leading to your arrest?  If so, you may have a defense and /or mitigating circumstances to raise in your case to get your case dropped or your charges reduced.

Paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen, is a widely used drug used primarily to treat fever and mild to moderate pain.  It is generically available in the United States under the trade names Tylenol and Panadol.  It is also present in Acet, Excedrin, Triaminic and possibly other medications. Despite its wide use, recent scientific studies have indicated acetaminophen may cause or contribute to certain criminal behaviors, especially those crimes involving violence or aggression.

The first study, reported in the publication Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience in September 2016, examined the effects of acetaminophen on empathy.  There, researchers from the National Institutes of Health and The Ohio State University studied the effects of acetaminophen on empathy in undergraduate students.  Empathy is the ability to recognize, process and respond to others’ emotional states.  Empathic functions have been linked with numerous cognitive and affective processes. Importantly, impaired empathy has been linked to aggression and criminal behavior in society.

The study found acetaminophen reduced both the experience of pain and empathy for pain in the test subjects.  The researchers realized these findings raised important questions about the societal impact of acetaminophen. First, the researchers noted empathy for another’s pain and suffering is an important motivator of compassionate actions.  They further noted empathic affect and cognition can also function to inhibit aggressive and hurtful impulses.

Based on the drug-induced reductions in empathy observed in the study, the researchers theorized acetaminophen, and potentially other analgesics, might interfere with social processes that are critical for the promotion of social bonds and social order. Given the millions of people who consume acetaminophen on a regular basis, the researchers postulated the social consequences of acetaminophen could be far more costly than previously assumed. Aside from their study, the researchers noted little is known about how clinically approved drug therapies such as analgesics influence social cognition, affect or behavior. They therefore acknowledged the need for more research on the social side effects of these medications.

The second study was reported in the scientific publication Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior in December of 2018 in an article entitled Acetaminophen (paracetamol) affects empathy-like behavior in rats: Dose-response relationship.  There, researchers from around the world, including the prestigious Mayo Clinic in the United States, studied the effects of acetaminophen on empathy.

The aim of the study was to further investigate the effects of acetaminophen on empathy-like behavior using rats.  The scientists found empathy-like behavior was reduced with a single high dose of acetaminophen. Subsequent low dose administration of acetaminophen also reduced empathy-like behavior.  Thus, the results of the previous study in humans were confirmed in another mammalian species.

Finally, in July 2020 scientists at The Ohio State University published the results of their inquiry into the effects of acetaminophen on risk taking in the publication Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.  Recent research had suggested acetaminophen’s effects extend to the blunting of negative as well as positive affect. Because affect is a determinant of risk perception and risk taking, they tested the hypothesis that acute acetaminophen consumption could influence these important judgments and decisions. In three double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, healthy young adults completed a laboratory measure of risk taking and completed self-report measures of risk perception. Across all studies the researchers found acetaminophen increased risk-taking behavior.

As noted by the researchers, since nearly 25% of the population consume acetaminophen each week, reduced risk perceptions and increased risk taking could have important societal effects. They concluded it is imperative to understand acetaminophen’s effects on choices made and risks taken, noting “[r]isk perception and risk taking are judgments and decisions that can affect many aspects of our lives, and this common, over-the-counter drug may influence this process, unbeknownst to the millions taking the drug.”

The role of some prescription medications in causing or contributing to criminal behavior is well known.  These recent studies, however, indicate commonly and frequently used over the counter medications such as acetaminophen can likewise unwittingly cause or contribute to criminal conduct by increasing aggressive / hurtful impulses and other risky behaviors.

If you or a loved one have been arrested for uncharacteristic behavior and you believe an over the counter medication may have influenced that behavior, you should consult with a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney knowledgeable about the role of certain medications in criminal behavior.  Doing so will give you the best chance of having your charges dropped or reduced, on the ground your behavior was caused by the medication and therefore was not intentional.  Call me for a free case strategy session to discuss how I can best help you with your case in Jacksonville, Fernandina Beach, Yulee, Macclenny, Green Cove Springs, Middleburg, St. Augustine or surrounding areas.

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