Changes in the way paracetamol products are packaged have been credited with saving hundreds of lives, according to a new report.
Published by the British Medical Journal, the report describes how, since paracetamol packets have shrunk in size, there have been far fewer deaths linked to deliberate overdoses. Equally, the previous number of liver transplants needed has plummeted as well, say the report's compilers.
Liver damage is often associated with paracetamol overdoses and such events remain a significant suicide contributor, too. More than 14 years ago, new rules were introduced in the UK. These rules limited the paracetamol packs allowed to be sold by pharmacies and other retail outlets to 32 and 16 tablet-sizes, respectively.
Those involved in the new report sought to examine what impact this 1998 paracetamol packaging measure has since had. In order to do this, they obtained and studied data relating to liver transplants and paracetamol deaths for the period 1993-2009. This data came from sources including the former UK Transplant organisation (since renamed NHS Blood and Transport) and the Office of National Statistics.
Ultimately, they found a 43 per cent drop in paracetamol overdose suicides when comparing the periods 1993-1998 and 1998-2009. On top of that, they also observed a 61 per cent drop in UK liver unit registrations.
They attribute both scenarios to the advent of reduced-size paracetamol packaging but warn that, still now, there are far too many suicides relating to drug poisoning and urge that a complacent approach isn't adopted.
One avenue still left to explore is the introduction of even smaller paracetamol packets and/or even more restricted numbers of pills permitted inside them.
"While some of this effect could have been due to improved hospital management of paracetamol overdoses, we believe that this has in large part been due to the introduction of the legislation", said the University of Oxford Centre for Suicide Research's Professor Keith Hawton. "We are extremely pleased that this measure has had such benefits, but think that more needs to be done to reduce the toll of deaths from this cause."