This site is intended for health professionals only

At the heart of general practice since 1960

Over half of shops 'sell unsafe amount of paracetamol'

Experts have called for tougher checks on the sale of paracetamol and aspirin after research found over half of shops were willing to sell more than two packets at a time.

The mystery shopper experiment conducted across Shropshire and Staffordshire found that 57% of shops were willing to sell more than the MHRA-recommended maximum of two packets in one transaction, while 30% would sell an illegal amount of more than 100 tablets.

It also found nearly all shops - 98% - sold paracetamol alongside packets of paracetamol-containing flu remedies without explaining potential dangers to customers.

MHRA guidelines state that ‘no retailer should sell more than two packets of paracetamol (500mg) in one transaction’, with sales of 100 tablets or more considered against the law.

The research, published in the BMJ Open, comes as arund 90,000 cases of paracetamol overdose are reported each year in the UK, with research published last year finding that acute liver failure through painkiller overdosing is twice as common in the UK as in other European countries.

The new study, concluded that ’widespread failure of over-the-counter regulation compromises public safety’, with reasons stated as ‘a lack of retail store staff education’ and ‘limited information given to consumers on packaging’.

It suggested that a logo could be introduced on packaging to alert consumers to dangers, alongside better regulation on sales.

The paper said: ’[S]ales of aspirin and paracetamol over the counter must be better regulated in the UK to ultimately reduce morbidity and mortality rates of deliberate and accidental overdoses.’

Commenting on the findings, study author Phillip Molloy, a medical student, said he was ’extremely shocked to find such widespread non-adherence to MHRA guidelines’.

Readers' comments (11)

  • Well if that 'really shocks' (you) wake up. if anybody wants a stack of paracetamol they can easily shop around.don't blame shop keepers

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • How sadly ironic that GP practices are barred from selling OTC medication under the NHS contract. Why is that?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • If you can't tolerate NSAIDs then Paracetamol is the only effective OTC pain relief. Anyone with chronic pain will tell you that actually it is rather difficult to buy reasonable quantities of paracetamol without visiting multiple shops or having it prescribed.

    If someone wants to deliberately overdose they can quite easily shop around.

    I suspect accidental overdoses would fall through the floor if pharmacists were allowed to sell pure codeine - it is the paracetamol / ibuprofen it is compounded with that causes the harm.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • More Regulators at 100k + a year - it seems that the list of pals requiring lucrative positions is unending.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Latest shock news! Around 400 people die of drowning in Britain every year. Government has just realised that the lethal substance, water, is piped into every home.
    "We must do something" said a government spokesman, "not one more person must die as a result of this lethal substance. This must never happen again. From today we are outlawing the water supply, and people must buy bottled water, shops can only sell 1 litre at a time."

    A spokesman from TWATs (The Water Action Trust) welcomed the government action and said "400 people a year will now live as a result of stopping people having access to this harmful substance".

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • The author is still a student. Wait till he graduates - we'll have the next jh on a witch hunt!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Lets not all get too stroppy about this. There is good evidence to show that limiting paracetamol sales has significantly reduced deaths by "cry for help" overdoses. Even so 10.10's contribution is very funny!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • It's a proper pain in the A to have to keep buying paracetamol. I have 3 kids and when they all get their colds, a bottle of calpol doesn't last long. No biggie if you live in a town, not so handy if you live in the countryside. Many times has a bottle of calpol cost me an extra trip in the car - thus increasing greenhouse gases.

    All this "protect us from ourselves" crap is really irritating. If you really want to kill yourself, it's not hard. This pointless guidance is a waste of time.

    By the way I thought following "guidelines" is optional? So let the retailers do as they choose.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Problem is many who overdose and die do not actually wish to die. Maybe we shiuld restrict otc sales in shops but allow pharmacists to supply larger quantities. Not a perfect solution but it may help with the problem 5.17 describes.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Since we're in the nanny state business, can I also suggest we

    -restrict the sale of all cooking knives to no longer than 1.5"

    -ban anyone from having any kind of petrol or diesel motor including cars

    -ensure no building or bridge is more than 3 feet off the ground

    -All train lines to be fully underground

    Or, alternatively we could end the Orwellian nonsense and allow free will - including the right to od on paracetamol if you so choose.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

View results 10 results per page20 results per page

Have your say