Suicides fall after withdrawal of painkiller

The withdrawal of the painkiller co-proxamol from the UK market has led to a reduction in the number of suicides and accidental poisonings involving the drug, UK research suggests.

The Committee on Safety in Medicines announced in 2005 that the drug would be phased out by the end of 2007 after being linked to 766 deaths in England and Wales.

For this latest study, researchers from the University of Oxford used national records to compare the impact of the announcement of co-proxamol withdrawal on prescribing practices and deaths from co-proxamol.

They found that there was a steep fall, 59%, in the prescribing of co-proxamol following the announcement in 2005, accompanied by significant increases in the prescribing of other painkillers including cocodamol, paracetamol and codeine.

These changes in prescribing practices produced a 62% reduction in suicides and resulted in 349 fewer deaths when accidental poisonings were included.

The researchers concluded that the findings suggest that the UK initiative has been an effective measure and highlights how regulatory authorities can have an important public health function.

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