Internet survey of home storage of paracetamol by individuals in the UK

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Aim: Paracetamol (acetaminophen) is a common cause of liver failure due to overdose. Legislation introduced in the UK in 1998 to limit pack sizes of paracetamol has had limited impact on the overall number and severity of paracetamol overdoses. This may be because people have large amounts of paracetamol stored at home, but no previous studies have explored this question.

Methods: Individuals who regularly take part in market research surveys were invited to take part in an Internet survey. They were asked to supply demographic details, the frequency with which they use paracetamol and ibuprofen, and details of the amount and location of these drugs that they possessed.

Results: The mean age of respondents was 43.3 years (standard deviation 14.5 years), and 49.9% were female. People with both ibuprofen and paracetamol tended to have more packs and tablets of paracetamol (P < 0.001) and over a third had 32 or more paracetamol tablets. The most common pack size was 16 tablet packs (44.8% of all packs), which accounted for 39.4% of tablets. The most common site of paracetamol storage in the home was the kitchen (63.8% of people, 95% confidence interval 60.7, 66.7).

Conclusions: This study suggests that pack size legislation in the UK has had limited effect on the amount of paracetamol that individuals have access to in the home. This may explain, at least in part, the limited impact of the pack size legislation on paracetamol overdoses in the UK.

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