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Am J Emerg Med. 1987 Nov;5(6):483-7.

The effect of activated charcoal on N-acetylcysteine absorption in normal subjects.

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  • 1Intermountain Regional Poison Control Center, Salt Lake City, Utah.


The discovery of the effectiveness of oral antidotes such as N-acetylcysteine (NAC) for acetaminophen poisonings has raised questions about the appropriateness of concomitant administration with activated charcoal. A number of studies have attempted to clarify this question without complete success. This study was designed to evaluate the difference in serum levels of NAC when given with activated charcoal. Nineteen patients completed a two-phase cross-over study in which they served as their own controls. Each subject in phase 1 received 140 mg/kg of diluted, chilled NAC orally, and venous blood samples were drawn for analysis. Phase 2 consisted of a 100-g dose of activated charcoal followed by NAC. Samples were transported immediately and assayed using spectrophotometry. A reduction in peak NAC level of 29% (P less than .02) and a reduction of total area under the curve (AUC) of 39% (P less than .001) was noted. Although it may be preferable to avoid completely the use of activated charcoal when using NAC to treat overdoses of acetaminophen, we recommend that if these agents are used together, doses of NAC be increased by 40% to compensate for the decreased oral absorption of NAC.

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