Death of medical student Sarah Houston after taking banned slimming drug Dinitrophenol highlights dangers of buying pills online, warns Government

Ban toxic diet aid, says dead student's family

Slimming pills which led to the death of a medical student will claim more lives unless regulators launch an urgent crackdown, campaigners warned yesterday as it emerged that a legal loophole has allowed the hazardous tablets to remain on sale.

Jim Dobbin, a microbiologist who is also the Labour and Co-operative MP for Heywood and Middleton, called for a review of the law concerning DNP (2,4-dinitrophenol) – an unregulated weight-loss product taken by the Leeds University student Sarah Houston. It was linked to 62 deaths around the world in a study published last year in The Journal of Medical Toxicity.

“It is unacceptable that lives are being put at risk by ineffective legislation and control of internet trade in potentially lethal products,” Mr Dobbin said.

Miss Houston, 23, was being treated for anorexia and bulimia and died after taking a combination of prescribed antidepressants and DNP, an inquest heard on Monday.

DNP is illegal for human consumption but can be sold legally as a pesticide. Miss Houston, from Chesham, Buckinghamshire, was found dead by her flatmate on 24 September last year after taking pills she bought online from a trader in Spain.

DNP - the common name for Dinitrophenol - is illegal for human consumption but can be legally sold as a pesticide. Houston, from Chesham, Buckinghamshire who studying at the University of Leeds and was found dead by her flatmate on 24 September last year, died after ingesting pills which she bought over the internet from a trader in Spain.

Officially, Dinitrophenol is classed as an illegal food and fall between the cracks of various departments in Britain. The Food Standards Agency says duty lies within the remit of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the Governmental agency with responsibility for standards of safety, quality and performance.

The MHRA claims it cannot take legal action against manufacturers or distributors of this unlicensed product, which was used as a prototype weight-loss product up until 1938 when it was deemed too toxic for human consumption, because it is not classified as a medicinal product.

The test for the team who make classifications on whether a product is medicinal is in two parts. It must either have a medical ingredient – which would therefore require a medicines license – or it must make a medicinal claim. A slimming product can only be said to make a medical claim if it specifically refers to countering obesity, which is a medical condition.

Nevertheless, DNP – which was also linked to the death of 18-year-old fitness fanatic Sarmad Alladin earlier this year, and has side-effects including vomiting, restlessness and rapid respiration – is easily obtainable through internet suppliers who are clearly marketing the product for weight control. One site, which specialises in body-enhancing products advertises a bottle of DNP as the “best weight loss product available” with the price reduced from 85 to 79 euros for 50 capsules.

John Wilding, Professor of Medicine and Head of Department of Obesity and Endocrinology at the University of Liverpool, said the medical community was well aware of self-medication taking place: “DNP or Dinitrophenol was used decades ago as a prototype weight-loss drug because it uncouples the process of converting energy in cells to produce heat instead and increases metabolic rate, which in theory might be useful at a low level, but if you overdo it, can be very dangerous. It is known to be used in body-building circles in order to control body fat content, although there has been no regulated clinical trials to show that it does in fact do so.”

Mr Dobbin, who worked in the NHS for 33 years, has joined the Houston family and the West Yorkshire coroner, David Hinchliff, in calling for greater control of unregulated substances sold online. “I hope this will lead to a successful campaign to rein in unscrupulous manufacturers and promoters of toxic substances that have been officially banned from human consumption,” he told The Independent.

Sarah’s father, Geoff Houston, said: “For those who are selling it, if you have any ounce of decency, you must stop.”

Mr Hinchliff told the inquest: “This is not a one-off case and it needs bringing to the public’s attention.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?