Paracetamol is the commonest agent employed in self poisoning, however it is not clear whether adolescents possess insight into the serious complications associated with its misuse. Using a one page questionnaire, the availability, usage, and knowledge of toxicity of paracetamol among 1147 American and British adolescents was assessed. Although 90% of all students recognised that paracetamol could kill, the great majority of students overestimated the lethal dose. In addition, while knowledge regarding side effects of paracetamol was poor the drug was widely available to, and used by, the study population. It is proposed that gross overestimation of the number of tablets required to kill, poor understanding of paracetamol side effects, and wide availability of the drug contribute to its frequent use in adolescent suicidal behaviour. The inclusion of some over-the-counter medications in school drug education programs in addition to tighter control of the availability of paracetamol may help reduce the problem of adolescent self poisoning.
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