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 24 January 2018

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News

Change in UK legislation on analgesic packs cuts suicides from overdoses

Suicides from overdoses of paracetamol (acetaminophen) or aspirin dropped nearly a quarter in the three years following new legislation in 1998, which cut pack sizes and limited how many tablets a retailer was allowed to sell, reports this week's British Medical Journal.

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A recent study concludes that selling paracetamol (acetaminophen) and other painkillers in smaller pack sizes has slashed rates of suicide and damage to the liver from paracetamol poisoning.

The researchers found that the number of tablets taken in non-fatal overdoses of aspirin and paracetamol fell significantly after the legislation.

Admissions to liver units for paracetamol poisoning as a result, and the numbers of related liver transplants also dropped heavily - down by nearly a third (30%) in the four years after the laws came into force.

Large overdoses were reduced by 20% for paracetamol and by 39% for salicylates in 2nd and 3rd years after legislation
British Medical Journal

Researchers analyzed rates of suicides and non-fatal overdoses from paracetamol, salicylates (aspirin) and ibuprofen across the UK between 1993 and 2003.

Suicide deaths from paracetamol and salicylates were reduced in the three years after the change in legislation on 16 September 1998.

The researchers found that large overdoses were reduced by 20% for paracetamol and by 39% for salicylates in the second and third years after the legislation.

While overdosing from paracetamol and salicylates - both covered by the new laws - decreased, patterns of overdosing from ibuprofen, which was not targeted in the legislation, remained roughly the same.

The authors commented, "Although smaller pack sizes do not prevent someone from buying multiple packs from various retailers, many of those who overdose do so impulsively - using tablets to hand in the home."

In addition the authors suggested, "Smaller pack sizes will prevent deaths."

"Our research provides a persuasive argument to reduce pack sizes still further."

British Medical Journal; 30 October 2004: Press release: bmj.com
01 November 2004

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