Objective To evaluate the long term effect of legislation limiting the size of packs of analgesics sold over the counter.
Design Before and after study.
Setting Suicides in England and Wales, data from six liver units in England and Scotland and five general hospitals in England, and UK data on sales of analgesics, between September 1993 and September 2002.
Data sources Office for National Statistics; six liver units in England and Scotland; monitoring systems in general hospitals in Oxford, Manchester, and Derby; and Intercontinental Medical Statistics Health UK.
Main outcome measures Deaths by suicidal overdose with paracetamol, salicylates, or ibuprofen; numbers of patients admitted to liver units, listed for liver transplant, and undergoing transplantations for paracetamol induced hepatotoxicity; non-fatal self poisonings with analgesics and numbers of tablets taken; and sales figures for analgesics.
Results Suicidal deaths from paracetamol and salicylates were reduced by 22% (95% confidence interval 11% to 32%) in the year after the change in legislation on 16 September 1998, and this reduction persisted in the next two years. Liver unit admissions and liver transplants for paracetamol induced hepatotoxicity were reduced by around 30% in the four years after the legislation. Numbers of paracetamol and salicylate tablets in non-fatal overdoses were reduced in the three years after the legislation. Large overdoses were reduced by 20% (9% to 29%) for paracetamol and by 39% (14% to 57%) for salicylates in the second and third years after the legislation. Ibuprofen overdoses increased after the legislation, but with little or no effect on deaths.
Conclusion Legislation restricting pack sizes of analgesics in the United Kingdom has been beneficial. A further reduction in pack sizes could prevent more deaths.