British experience beckons Danish pill debate

British initiatives to reduce the number of headache pills per packet have led to a decrease in the number of deaths and dangerous intoxications.
by Kresten Morten Munksgaard

Smaller packets of headache pills lead to fewer deaths and dangerous intoxications due to overdoses, according to a survey published in the British Medical Journal Friday.

The survey was conducted by the head of the Center for Suicide Research at Oxford University, Keith Hawton, and it is the first major scientific study of the long-term effects from imposing pack limits on mild pain medication.

The results beckons a Danish debate about a possible limit on pack sizes for over-the-counter drugs to decrease the number of suicide attempts with pain meds such as paracetamol.

The British experiences show that the number of deaths due to overdoses of paracetamol has gone down by 43 % in England and Wales since a packing limit for over-the-counter drugs was imposed in 1998.

Could work in Denmark

"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," Keith Hawton tells BBC News.

The British rules stipulate that over-the-counter pain medication can contain a maximum of 32 pills in a pack, while Denmark – as the only European country – allows packs of up 300 pills.

According to Danish chief physician and psychiatrist Merete Nordentoft british experiences clearly show how smaller packs benefit society:

“It clearly shows the success they have had in limiting the seriousness of suicide attempts with paracetamol. And it speaks volumes that it still has an effect so long time after the imposing of the pack limits. They say they have prevented up to 43 % of paracetamol-related suicides,” she tells the Danish medical journal, Ugeskrift for Læger.

- translated by Martin Havtorn Petersen

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