The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has welcomed moves to highlight the potential lethal risks of the fertiliser 2,4 dinitrophenol (DNP) that is used in some diet pills, but says they do not go far enough and reiterated its call for it to be banned.
Public Health England (PHE) issued an alert for frontline NHS staff — including community pharmacists — to be on the lookout for patients who may present with side effects of taking DNP.
The warning follows the highest recorded number of DNP cases — including deaths — being reported in 2018 to the National Poisons Information Service since 2015.
In 2018, there were 20 reported cases and 6 related deaths attributed to DNP poisoning, the central alert letter revealed.
In the UK, DNP is classified as a food and has been banned from routine sale by the Food Standards Agency owing to its toxicity.
But despite this, the product, which the central alert letter describes as a “toxic industrial chemical unfit for human consumption,” is still available.
The letter adds that it “may be used by people looking for rapid weight loss or body builders attempting to change their appearance”.
The alert comes seven weeks after the RPS wrote to the home secretary Sajid Javid, urging him to follow the United States’ lead and ban DNP on the grounds that it is an explosive.
Ash Soni, president of the RPS, said he was disappointed that he had not had a response from Javid, but welcomed the action taken by PHE.
He told The Pharmaceutical Journal: “It’s a step in the right direction that PHE has started to respond and take [the dangers associated with] DNP seriously.
“But the issue sits with the Home Office. DNP is an explosive and it should follow the same route taken in the United States in order to ban it.”
He said community pharmacists have a role to highlight the dangers of DNP to customers who approach them for advice about losing weight.
He said: “They should make sure that as part of the conversation they make people aware that if they see anything for DNP then don’t touch it.”
The Home Office has been approached for a comment.