Laws over sale of painkiller 'flouted'

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The Independent Online

Restrictions on the sale of the painkiller paracetamol to prevent suicides is being routinely flouted by chemists and supermarkets.

A study of more than 100 patients treated at the accident and emergency department of Guy's and St Thomas' hospital in south London for paracetamol overdoses found a third had deliberately set out to buy the drug to kill themselves. It also found that 16 had been able to buy more than one pack of the pills at a time.

Under legislation introduced in 1998, petrol stations, supermarkets and corner shops were restricted to selling packs of 16 tablets of paracetamol. Larger packs of 32 can be bought from chemist's. In addition, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), recommended packs should be sold only one at a time.

But the researchers found large quantities of the painkiller, which causes liver failure and death in overdose, were easy to obtain.

In four of the eight chemist's they visited they could buy at least 48 tablets in one go. They also bought more than one pack of 16 in four of the six supermarkets and nine out of 10 of the newsagents, petrol stations and corner shops. The findings are published in the Postgraduate Medical Journal.