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Painkiller ban leads to fall in suicide rate

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The number of suicides involving a common painkiller has fallen following an end to the prescription of the drug, research published in the British Medical Journal has shown.

Scientists from Oxford University looking into the co-proxamol also said there was no corresponding rise in suicides from other pain killers.

A study, published on bmj.com, showed that co-proxamol was once the most common prescription drug used in suicides, with 766 people dying from overdoses of the drug between 1997 and 1999 in England and Wales.

Experts say the drug has a ‘relatively narrow’ margin between the concentration at which it was therapeutic and that at which it could kill. A ‘major’ reduction in suicides and accidental poisonings was observed once co-proxamol was withdrawn from the UK market.

Professor Keith Hawton led a study looking at national records to establish how successful the initiative has been in reducing the number of deaths.

Crucially, the changes in prescribing practices were accompanied by a 62% reduction in suicides involving co-proxamol, or 295 fewer deaths - a figure which rose to 349 when accidental poisonings were included - compared with expected levels.

However, the report’s authors said there was no increase in deaths involving other painkillers and prescription drugs, allaying fears that people would substitute other drugs for co-proxamol in suicide attempts.

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