Report warns that 15 paracetamol can kill

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AS FEW as 15 paracetamol tablets can cause irreversible liver damage or even death, according to a report published today which calls for new, safer forms of the painkiller, writes Liz Hunt.

The Consumers' Association said that all medicines containing paracetamol should contain an in- built antidote which protects the liver. There is only one such product available at present.

More people overdose with paracetamol, which is available in most grocery stores and supermarkets, than with any other drug which can be sold without prescription. More than 200 people died from paracetamol overdose in 1991.

A report in Which?, the magazine of the Consumers' Association, says paracetamol presents a risk because it is included in many different medicines which can be taken simultaneously. People become confused about how much they have taken. It takes less paracetamol to reach overdose levels than other painkillers such as aspirin and ibuprofen, and its effects are more dangerous.

'It is available in many guises. It is the active ingredient in many flu and hangover remedies as well as pills for period pain and sinus problems. . .If you use several medicines it's possible to take too much paracetamol by mistake,' the report said.

Although people vary in their susceptibility to paracetamol, between 15 to 20 500mg tablets can be harmful. An antidote to paracetamol poisoning is available which protects the liver but it must be given within 24 hours of overdose. Many people who have taken an overdose appear to recover and then develop fatal liver failure a few days later.