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Legislation in 1998 to reduce pack sizes of the painkiller paracetamol in the UK appears to have had long-term beneficial effects on poisoning deaths involving the drug, especially those due to suicide according to a UK team led by researchers from the Department of Psychiatry.

Using data from national mortality statistics and national liver units, the researchers found that following the legislation there was an estimated 43% reduction in deaths in England and Wales involving paracetamol that received suicide or open coroners’ inquest verdicts, equating to 765 fewer deaths than expected over an 11-year period, and 990 fewer when recorded accidental deaths were included. There was also a 61% reduction in the number of registrations for liver transplants due to paracetamol-induced liver damage. 

Lead author Keith Hawton:  "The findings are particularly gratifying, as our research on paracetamol overdoses during the 1990s contributed to the MHRA decision to limit pack sizes of paracetamol to try and reduce deaths from this cause. It appears that this initiative may have saved a large number of lives and reduced demands on liver units. It also provides further evidence that restricting access to means for suicide can be valuable in preventing suicide."

The research was published in the BMJ and was led by researchers from the University of Oxford Centre for Suicide Research, together with colleagues from Manchester University Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, Bristol University School of Social and Community Medicine, King’s College Hospital Institute of Liver Studies, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and NHS Blood and Transplant.


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