Reducing the size of paracetamol packs caused a 43% drop in deaths from overdoses, a study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has suggested.
The 1998 law, which reduced pack sizes to 16 if shop-bought or 32 if prescribed, may have reduced the number of deaths and liver transplants.
Paracetamol overdose ‘common’
Professor Keith Hawton, lead researcher from the University of Oxford Centre for Suicide Research said: “Paracetamol overdoses are extremely common in the UK, especially in young people.”
Although there was a drop in deaths and liver damage, the study seems to show that the number of people overdosing on the painkiller has not declined.
Professor Hawton noted that 40% of people who present at hospital following self-poisoning have taken paracetamol in some form.
Data and findings
The researchers used Office of National Statistics (ONS) data for people aged 10 years and over between 1993 and 2009.
UK Transplant, now NHS Blood and Transplant, supplied data for liver transplants.
Their data showed a 61% reduction in the number of UK liver units registrations following the legislation, 482 fewer than expected.
However, there are still an average of 121 deaths due to paracetamol poisoning each year.
Stronger legislation enforcement, further reduction in pack sizes and a reduction in the paracetamol content of tablets have been suggested.
Professor Hawton said that even “simple approaches” can help prevent deaths.
“The relative success of restricting pack sizes shows that even simple approaches like this can help prevent some deaths, especially those where people take overdoses on impulse which they might later regret,” he said.