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Keywords:

  • overdose;
  • paracetamol;
  • poisoning severity

Summary

Background and Objective:  In September 1998, legislation was introduced in the United Kingdom to limit paracetamol pack sizes to 16 tablets of 500 mg at general sales outlets and 32 tablets of 500 mg at pharmacies. The effect of the regulations on severity of paracetamol poisoning is unclear. The aim of this study was to describe trends in the severity of paracetamol poisoning and to assess the impact of the 1998 Regulations on the enquiries to a UK poisons centre.

Methods:  We extracted data about the age, sex and number of tablets or capsules of paracetamol ingested by patients notified to Guy’s and St Thomas’ Poisons Unit (London, UK) between 1996 and 2004.

Results and Discussion:  During the study period, there were approximately 140 000 patients with suspected paracetamol poisoning, accounting for around 11% of all patients reported to the poisons unit. The median number of tablets fell from 25 to 20 for males and 20 to 16 for females after 1998. There was also a reduction in the proportion of patients who ingested 17–32 tablets (from 36% to 30%) and 33–100 tablets (from 25% to 19%).

Conclusion:  Following the 1998 Regulations there was a decline in the severity, but not frequency, of paracetamol poisoning cases reported to Guy’s and St Thomas’ Poisons Unit. It is unclear whether the decline in severity was a direct consequence of the regulations.