The UK government is taking steps to restrict the availability of over-the-counter medications containing paracetamol in an effort to reduce suicides, as part of the recently unveiled National Suicide Prevention Strategy.
This strategy acknowledges that suicide rates have not improved since 2018 and introduces several measures, including the establishment of a national alert system to inform schools and colleges about new suicide methods
Under the current regulations, individuals can purchase a maximum of two packets of paracetamol-containing medication, typically totaling 16 tablets of 500mg each. However, the government has requested the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to explore the possibility of further limiting access to these medications.
Ministers in the UK have committed to reducing suicide rates in England within two and a half years. A 2018 study conducted by Cambridge University Press highlighted that paracetamol is the most commonly used drug for self-poisoning in the UK and is associated with fatal liver damage. This study analyzed data from 80 patients in hospitals, using structured interviews, measures of depression and suicidal intent, information from the Oxford Monitoring System for Attempted Suicide, and liver function test results.
The National Health Service (NHS) reports that more than 5,000 people die by suicide each year in the UK, and it receives approximately 200,000 crisis line calls every month.