Retailer investigated over painkiller sales

DISCOUNT retailer Poundland is under investigation after an apparent breach of the guidelines on the sale of paracetamol.

The firm, which has about 40 stores in Scotland, has launched a promotion selling three 16-tablet packs of the commonly used drug for £1 – breaking recommendations set out by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the Proprietary Association of Great Britain in an attempt to cut back on the number of poisonings by the medication every year.

Although it is not illegal to sell more than two packets of paracetamol in any one transaction, the move breaks guidelines. A Scotland on Sunday investigation into Poundland stores selling the products in Glasgow and Edinburgh found the three-pack promotion was widely available.

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The MHRA said it had been made aware of the promotion and was looking into the deal.

“There is no legal restriction on the number of packs that can be purchased in a single transaction, provided the total amount does not exceed 100 tablets – at which point the medicine becomes subject to prescription control,” a spokesman said.

“The MHRA, however, strongly discourages multiple sales and multibuy promotions for these analgesics.”

The promotion, which is available in stores and is advertised online, was spotted by Rutherglen MP Tom Greatrex at the store in his constituency. “The guidelines that most major shops observe are there for a very good reason – they help minimise the chances of very serious health problems through unintended or deliberate overdose,” he said.

Research from Edinburgh University last week revealed that taking just slightly too much paracetamol on a regular basis could lead to a “staggered overdose” – causing liver and brain problems.

The current regulations were introduced in 1998, when new legislation banned ordinary retailers from selling packs of paracetamol any larger than 16 tablets. Pharmacies, however, can sell packs of 32, with a provision for pharmacists to supply up to 100 tablets in such packs without a prescription if they believe it is appropriate. At the same time, non-legal guidelines were brought in, recommending that retailers voluntarily implement a two-packet rule.

Ian Brotchie, spokesman for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Scotland, said the organisation would push for further legislation to be introduced if retailers were not following the guidelines.

“When it comes to selling a medicine, it should not be seen as the same as a cosmetic or a product such as toothpaste,” he said.

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“These kinds of promotions are not responsible and are pretty disgraceful.”

Poundland insisted it was operating within the law. “Current law in the UK permits the sale of up to 100 analgesic-containing tablets in one transaction without a prescription,” said a spokeswoman for the company. “Poundland’s policy of selling three packets of 16 tablets for £1 is within the operation of the law.

“As a responsible retailer, Poundland operates a restriction on the sale of such products whereby we will only permit the sale of a maximum of three packets of such tablets in any one transaction.”

According to a report carried out in 2002 by the Scottish Medical Journal – four years after the restrictions were brought in – there was a 45 per cent reduction in deaths from paracetamol poisoning.

The MHRA said that hospital admissions for paracetamol overdose have reduced by 31 per cent.