Year: 2007 Source: Public Health, v.121, no.1, (January 2007), p.45-50 SIEC No: 20070714


To describe how changes in legislation to control sales and thus restrict the general availability of paracetamol have affected deprivation-related inequalities in deliberate self-harm associated with the drug in Scotland.

Design and setting

A descriptive analysis of routine death and hospital discharge data for the entire Scottish population between 1995 and 2002.


Patients in Scotland admitted to hospital with a diagnosis of poisoning and deaths in Scotland due to poisoning 1995–2002.

Outcome measures

Changes in mortality and overdose rates by deprivation quintile, and case fatality rates due to poisoning involving paracetamol.


Rates of overdose involving paracetamol, while much higher in disadvantaged quintiles, fell in each deprivation quintile following the 1998 legislation. They then returned to levels similar, or above those in the mid 1990s. All quintiles were affected to a similar extent with the relationship between them remaining constant over time. Case fatality rates were significantly higher in more disadvantaged quintiles.


Marked inequalities exist in paracetamol related harm in Scotland. The most disadvantaged groups (both male and female) have higher overdose and death rates, as well as higher case fatality rates.

Following the restrictions all social groups saw similar reductions in paracetamol related harm. This effect has been short-lived and rates have returned to pre-legislation levels. Legislation has not permanently affected overall use of paracetamol in overdose in Scotland or reduced the proportion of patients taking paracetamol as a component of the overdose in the longer term.

An important public health policy has failed to achieve its objective and it is not clear why. We need a better understanding of why this measure had only short-term benefits if its full potential is to be achieved.