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Keywords:

  • co-proxamol;
  • paracetamol poisoning;
  • self-harm;
  • suicide

Aims

To describe how changes in legislation to restrict paracetamol sales have affected overdose discharges and death associated with the drug in Scotland.

Methods

A descriptive analysis of routine death and hospital discharge data for the entire Scottish population between 1995 and 2004. Patients in Scotland participated who were discharged from hospital with a diagnosis of poisoning; deaths in Scotland from diagnosis of poisoning 1995–2003 were also analysed. Outcome measures were changes in mortality and overdose due to poisoning involving paracetamol. A comparison was made of in-hospital and out-of-hospital mortality in fatalities involving paracetamol.

Results

The majority of paracetamol-associated deaths were due to co-proxamol. Deaths associated with paracetamol alone or with ethanol occurred principally in hospital and were a minority of deaths overall. The proportion of in-hospital deaths attributed to paracetamol increased (post/pre ratio 1.347; 95% confidence interval 1.076, 1.639; P = 0.013). Overall numbers of cases discharged with poisoning fell. The proportion of these involving paracetamol in any form increased significantly in all groups except young men aged 10 to <20 years.

Conclusions

Legislation has not reduced mortality or proportional use of paracetamol in overdose, both of which appear to have increased in Scotland since pack-size limitations. Other approaches are necessary to reduce the death rate from overdoses involving paracetamol.