Author(s): Ott P, Dalhoff K, Hansen PB, Loft S, Poulsen HE
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Abstract During the period 1978-1986, annual sales of paracetamol in Denmark increased from 1 million defined daily doses (DDD) (3 g) to 47 million DDD, while the number of admissions and deaths from overdose increased from 26 to 202 and from 1 to 3-4, respectively. The corresponding figures for salicylates are a decrease in sales from 113 to 94 million DDD, an increase in admissions from 282 to 595, and an increase in deaths from 5 to 22. From 1 January 1984 paracetamol became available on an over-the-counter basis. The figures for 1983 and 1984 were an increase in sales from 14 to 28 million DDD, an increase in admissions from 114 to 198, and an increase in deaths from 0 to 4. The number of deaths from opioid overdose remained constant at a value of about fifty during this period, the mortality per dose being about 20-fold higher than for paracetamol and salicylates. Dextropropoxyphene-related deaths increased twofold to 121 in 1986, with unchanged sales figures. A campaign launched by the National Board of Health resulted in a reduction in the number of deaths from dextropropoxyphene to 66 in 1987. The main effect of over-the-counter release of paracetamol was a dramatic increase in sales, without the epidemic of deaths observed a decade ago in the UK. It is suggested that the higher mortality of paracetamol poisonings in the UK compared to Denmark is related to the dextropropoxyphene content of the combination product, which is not available in Denmark. From an epidemiological toxicological viewpoint such combinations are not justified.
This article was published in J Intern Med
and referenced in Emergency Medicine: Open Access