Painkiller ban cuts number of suicides

Co-proxamol is linked to fatal overdoses

The controversial withdrawal of a common painkiller has dramatically cut suicides, say researchers.

A gradual phase-out of co-proxamol led to 350 fewer suicides and accidental deaths in England and Wales, a study in the British Medical Journal reports.

Regulators removed the drug’s licence in 2007 after fears about the risk of overdose but the move proved unpopular with some patients and doctors. Arthritis Care says some patients now struggle to control their pain.

Study leader Professor Keith Hawton, director of the Centre for Suicide Research at Oxford University, said before the restrictions co-proxamol was responsible for a fifth of all drug-related suicides.

By the 2007 deadline, prescribing of the drug had fallen by 59%, his analysis showed. Over the two-year period, deaths from co-proxamol fell by 62%. Specifically there were 295 fewer suicides and 349 fewer deaths from the drug including accidental overdoses.

Professor Hawton said authorities in the US were now considering withdrawing co-proxamol, which is a mixture of paracetamol and an opioid drug. ‘This marked reduction in suicides and accidental poisonings involving co-proxamol during this period, with no evidence of an increase in deaths involving other analgesics, suggests the initiative has been effective,’ he said.

But Federico Moscogiuri, head of policy and campaigns at Arthritis Care, said many people who used to be prescribed co-proxamol were now struggling to control their pain.

‘For them, co-proxamol makes the difference between being able to perform simple everyday activities and living in chronic, debilitating pain. This is an intolerable situation for a society committed to high quality care for all.’

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