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Friday, 9 June, 2000, 00:32 GMT 01:32 UK
Paracetamol overdoses 'falling'
Paracetamol sales now restricted
The number of paracetamol overdoses has declined since new legislation was introduced, say researchers.

The UK introduced revised rules on the sale of the painkiller in September 1998 because of concerns about the rate of attempted suicides.

It is a very positive sign that reducing access to paracetamol appears to have an impact on the number of people admitted to hospital for overdoses

Emma Charvet, The Samaritans
Packets of paracetamol sold in supermarkets can now contain only 16 tablets, those from chemists a maximum of 32. Any purchase of 100 or more tablets requires a prescription.

And research indicates the result has been a fall in the numbers of people overdosing on the drug and in the rate of liver transplants required as a result.

One study, at the liver unit of the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne, found that the average number of referrals for paracetamol overdose fell from 2.5 a month before September 1998 to one a month afterwards.

And the monthly average of referrals for liver transplant nationally fell from 3.5 to two.

In a separate study, at the Royal Free Hospital, London, all paracetamol overdoses fell by 21% over the same period. Serious overdoses were down by two-thirds.

But other overdoses, including those with Benzodiazepine, remained constant, reported the Lancet medical journal.

The Samaritans says 160,000 people were admitted to hospital for suicide attempts last year, of which 24,000 were teenagers.

Dr James Turvill at the Royal Free estimated that 200 in-patient days had been saved and predicted further falls in overdoses as "blister packs" of paracetamol replace existing supplies.

He said: "These findings strongly support the increasing trend in the blister packaging of medicines."


Dr Mark Hudson, one of the authors of the Newcastle study, said: "Increased awareness of the dangers of paracetamol poisoning is unlikely to explain the fall, because knowledge of the dangers does not deter its use.

"Therefore the reductions may well indicate a lowering in severe paracetamol poisoning resulting from legislative changes."

But he warned the new legislation could have a downside if it leads to people using more dangerous substances, such as tryclic antidepressants.

Emma Charvet, at the Samaritans, said: "It is a very positive sign that reducing access to paracetamol appears to have an impact on the number of people admitted to hospital for overdoses.

"This particularly helps teenage girls and young Asian women who have very high rates of paracetamol overdoses.

"However, it is very important to look at the bigger picture because paracetamol overdose is just one method of suicide.

"Attempted suicide has doubled among young men in the last ten years and men are more likely to use other means of suicide than overdosing."

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