Article reference:

Painkiller withdrawn over suicide risk

The Guardian co uk
Staff and agencies
Monday January 31, 2005

A widely used painkiller is to be phased out in the UK because of its links to around 400 accidental and intentional fatal overdoses per year, the government's medicines watchdog is expected to announce tomorrow.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will announce the phasing out of the drug, co-proxamol, over 18 months, starting almost immediately. Letters will be sent to GPs informing them of the decision.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said the decision had been taken because of health professionals' concerns that the strength of the drug posed a "small, but fatal risk of people accidentally or intentionally overdosing on it".

The drug, used to treat a range of conditions including back pain and arthritis, is linked to around 400 of these deaths every year.

Measures have already been taken to address concerns about the medicine including making advice more prominent on the packaging, but they did not seem to affect the number of deaths, the spokeswoman said.

Last year, the MHRA held a public consultation looking for further evidence about the risks and benefits of the medicine but it came to the decision to withdraw co-proxamol.

A spokeswoman for the agency said that people who are taking the drug did not need to come off it immediately. She added: "At their next routine appointment with their GP they need to go along and talk about alternative treatment."