Open Access Open Badges Research article

Use of analgesics in intentional drug overdose presentations to hospital before and after the withdrawal of distalgesic from the Irish market

Paul Corcoran12*, Udo Reulbach13, Helen S Keeley14, Ivan J Perry13, Keith Hawton5 and Ella Arensman13

Author Affiliations

1 National Suicide Research Foundation, 1 Perrott Avenue, College Road, Cork, Ireland

2 Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of Oviedo, Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red de Salud Mental (CIBERSAM), Julian Claveria 6, 33006 Oviedo, Spain

3 Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College, Cork, Ireland

4 Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, North Cork Area, Health Service Executive South, Mallow, County Cork, Ireland

5 Centre for Suicide Research, University of Oxford, Department of Psychiatry, Warneford Hospital, Headington, Oxford OX3 7JX, UK

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BMC Clinical Pharmacology 2010, 10:6  doi:10.1186/1472-6904-10-6

Published: 18 March 2010



Distalgesic, the prescription-only analgesic compound of paracetamol (325 mg) and dextropropoxyphene (32.5 mg) known as co-proxamol in the UK, was withdrawn from the Irish market as of January 2006. This study aimed to evaluate the impact of the withdrawal of distalgesic in terms of intentional drug overdose (IDO) presentations to hospital emergency departments (EDs) nationally.


A total of 42,849 IDO presentations to 37 of the 40 hospitals EDs operating in Ireland in 2003-2008 were recorded according to standardised procedures. Data on sales of paracetamol-containing drugs to retail pharmacies for the period 1998-2008 were obtained from IMS Health.


The withdrawal of distalgesic from the Irish market resulted in an immediate reduction in sales to retail pharmacies from 40 million tablets in 2005 to 500,000 tablets in 2006 while there was a 48% increase in sales of other prescription compound analgesics. The rate of IDO presentations to hospital involving distalgesic in 2006-2008 was 84% lower than in the three years before it was withdrawn (10.0 per 100,000). There was a 44% increase in the rate of IDO presentations involving other prescription compound analgesics but the magnitude of this rate increase was five times smaller than the magnitude of the decrease in distalgesic-related IDO presentations. There was a decreasing trend in the rate of presentations involving any paracetamol-containing drug that began in the years before the distalgesic withdrawal.


The withdrawal of distalgesic has had positive benefits in terms of IDO presentations to hospital in Ireland and provides evidence supporting the restriction of availability of means as a prevention strategy for suicidal behaviour.