Paracetamol responsible for a massive spike in poisonings

Study uncovers 200 deaths over 10 years and a 44 per cent increase in poisonings.

poisons spike

The most common call to Australian poisons centres in the past 10 years related to an everyday pain reliever that most of us have taken without thinking twice.

Yet this medication is responsible for a tidal wave of poisonings and 200 deaths over 10 years.

The surprising revelation that paracetamol is causing widespread and increasing harm was revealed in a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia on Monday.

Lead researcher Dr Rose Cairns, from the University of Sydney, says the study found a 44 per cent increase in the number of Australians who had overdosed on the drug in the past decade.

As a result, she is urging health authorities to insist that packet sizes be reduced.

“In Australia, you can get 20 tablets in supermarkets, and in pharmacies, you can get 100. There are no legal restrictions on how many packets you can buy,” Dr Cairns said.

She said Australia's lack of regulation on paracetamol was out of step compared to many other countries.

“In the UK, over 20 years ago, they took action on paracetamol because they were seeing a lot of overdoses and increases in deaths,” she said.

As a result, the UK restricted packs to 32 tablets in pharmacies and 16 outside of pharmacies in 1998. This resulted in a long-term reduction in paracetamol poisonings, liver injury and deaths.

In Denmark, paracetamol sales are permitted only to those aged 18 and over.

Dr Cairns explained that the research team analysed data from national hospital admissions, poisons centre calls and coroners’ records to examine poisonings, liver injuries and deaths.

The study found that the annual number of cases of paracetamol poisoning had increased by 44 per cent from 2007-2008 to 2016-2017. In that time, more than 95,000 paracetamol-related hospitalisations were recorded.

Writing in The Conversation, Dr Cairns said that liver injury from paracetamol had doubled over the same period and that paracetamol was the leading cause of acute liver failure in the western world.

She said the likely cause was because people were taking more tablets when they overdosed – either intentionally or accidentally – than in previous years, increasing the risk of liver failure.

“Paracetamol itself is not toxic,” Dr Cairns explained, “but in large amounts it overwhelms the body’s ability to process it safely. This can lead to build-up of a toxic metabolite (or break-down product), which binds to liver cells, causing these cells to die.

“The quantity that constitutes a toxic dose depends on circumstances, including the time period in which the paracetamol is taken, and the person’s weight. But any adult ingesting more than four grams in a day could be at risk.”

Dr Cairns emphasised that paracetamol was safe if used correctly.

“It is just when people take too much for whatever reason we see this toxicity, and it can be really, really harmful.”

She said it was important to be aware of the many brands of products that contained paracetamol, including cold and flu products, to avoid doubling up.

“People should also read the pack and ensure they follow the dosing instructions,” she advised.

Symptoms of paracetamol poisoning included nausea, vomiting and stomach pain.

Are you cautious about your use of paracetamol? Are you aware of the various products that contain the drug?

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    To make a comment, please register or login
    3rd Sep 2019
    Paracetamol deaths in last 10 years - over 200
    Marijuana deaths in last 10 years - NONE
    Guess which one we are not allowed access to?
    Our Governments motto should be "Corruptimus Maximus"
    3rd Sep 2019
    But the THC in marijuana causes paranoia and even psychosis. And marijuana's tar content is 10 times that of tobacco. Smoking it is highly likely to cause from lung cancer, so your claim of zero deaths does not bear scrutiny.
    Dave R
    3rd Sep 2019
    Agree if taken orally and not smoked.
    3rd Sep 2019
    Yes, well one is a pain killer and one is a mind altering drug which costs the tax payer mucho dinero every year due to people having permanent psycosis problems because of it. Who support those people whose lives are ruined. And their families...??
    9th Sep 2019
    CBD oil does not have THC, and is an effective and safe pain killer:
    3rd Sep 2019
    Big Pharma at it again. What is new? $25.00 for 20 Iron Tablets is a Ripoff.
    3rd Sep 2019
    Just how many tablets do you have to swallow? I assume a lot so you would have to have rocks in your head to take so many. The mind boggles. Bring back the Bex. :-)
    3rd Sep 2019
    That'll wreck your kidneys.
    3rd Sep 2019
    Vincents powders were better, the only thing that could fix my migraines.
    3rd Sep 2019
    So the asshole government is going to penalise those of us who take paracetemol responsibility (less than the recommended dose) and make it a helluva lot more expensive ? We get shafted on behalf of all the dipshits who abuse the dosage guidelines ? Good on ya Morrison Monkeys ! Another big fat hob nailed boot in the arse from the Stalinist mongrels temporarily in charge of this lunatic island !
    Horace Cope
    3rd Sep 2019
    Paracetamol is not a drug people become addicted to, or dependent on, in the same way people do with opioids or other drugs. Statistics show that about 75% of deaths associated with Paracetamol are intentional so limiting the number of tablets will not work. There is no record of who is buying this medication nor how many boxes are purchased in any given period so I can't see the point in any government trying to regulate sales.
    3rd Sep 2019
    Not sure I agree with you re: paracetamol not becoming addictive.
    I believe it can be - I know of at least 2 people who say they 'cannot live without having their paracetamol daily - and get really upset if they do not have it. So to me this is addiction.
    Horace Cope
    3rd Sep 2019
    Paracetamol by itself is not addictive, Troubador, but some preparations of paracetamol also include codeine which is an opiod and is addictive.
    3rd Sep 2019
    Intellego - you are either incredibly ill informed or biased against Marijuana for some reason. Do a wee bit of research about this most wonderful plant and learn why it was outlawed less than 100 years ago. Prior to that it was the 'go to' medicine for dozens of ailments for people all around the world, including Australia. That's why big pharma lobbied to have it outlawed. For THC to cause paranoia and/or psychosis you'd have to smoke an extraordinary amount, I mean basically be at it all day non stop. Contrary to what might seem illogical, Marijuana is good for upper lung respiratory conditions. Yes true. As for deaths..... my claim of zero deaths is 100% true. Prove me wrong. You are suggesting that somebody somewhere has died from Marijuana. Who, where, and when was this?. So it most certainly does bear scrutiny.
    3rd Sep 2019
    Funkee and Intellego, the issue in discussion is incorrect usage of paracetamol so please stop this useless argument about the benefits or otherwise of marijuana. Marijuana can have beneficial effects and bad effects, I think we all are aware of that. Please stick to the issue and get off your bandwagons and realize almost everything ingested by humans can be toxic if used incorrectly. Even over-ingestion of water, (as distinct from drowning) can cause significant harm and even death.
    Everything needs to be taken into perspective. Only 200 deaths in ten years, about 20 per year, hardly seems significant against the thousands that have been killed In road accidents in the same 10 year period, yet there is no call by the experts to ban motor vehicles. How many people have drowned in backyard swimming pools, yet I have not heard calls for them to be banned. We can introduce restrictions and measures to mitigate the hazards but If people choose to deliberately or unwittingly misuse things we just have to accept it.
    3rd Sep 2019
    Yes Eddy hardly a significant number to worry about. Stupid enough to overdose and die, tough, no more pain, get over it, no Nanny state restrictions needed
    3rd Sep 2019
    If a person definitely decides to do away with him/herself, there is not much can be done to prevent this. Should they choose paracetamol to do it then they can stockpile until enough is saved. Surely we don't have to go the way we did with codeine compounds, ie talk to the pharmacist, be entered on the computer system to check that we are not shopping around, limited to th e quantity we can buy. Maybe even have to go to the GP for a script. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to publicize the effects of an overdose of paracetamol, that is, liver failure with a long, slow, miserable death feeling so ill that you wish you could die.
    3rd Sep 2019
    What about drug education for consumers?

    Very few medical professionals bother to inform their patients of the potential harm they expose themselves to in consuming the various medications their GP's provide, specialists are no better.

    The current behaviour of the Australian Medical fraternity (AMA) needs to be seriously overhauled in the interests of practitioners maintaining their hippocratic oath, which reads in part, “I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgement but never with a view injury and wrongdoing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I I suggest such a course.” ... “Now if I carry out this oath, and break it not, may I gain for ever reputation among all men for my life and for my art; but if I break it and foreswear myself, may the opposite before me.”

    Does the current behaviour of most medical professionals in neglecting to inform their patients of the possible dangers of the medications they’re issuing reflect their keeping of the oath that ALL medical doctors must swear to? Somehow, I don't think so. Time to lift the quality of game perhaps?
    9th Sep 2019
    It does accumulate in fat cells and in the liver so long term use is not recommended, ever. Personally I never take pain killers, or any other pharmaceuticals, I don't trust any of them.

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