'Slimming pill' drug DNP to be classified as poison after 33 deaths

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A toxic chemical known to have killed at least 33 people in the UK is to be added to a list of regulated poisons by the government, following a campaign by the families of those who have died.

DNP - or 2.4 Dinitrophenol - is also classified as an explosive and is banned for human consumption but it has been marketed on the internet as a weight-loss aid or “fat burner”.

From October 1, 2023, DNP will be regulated under the Poisons Act 1972, which means anyone who wants to buy it will need a licence to do so via a registered pharmacist.

Bethany Shipsey from Worcester died in 2017 aged 21 after she purchased diet pills containing DNP online from a website in Ukraine.

Her father, Doug, told ITV News that while he welcomed the announcement from the Home Office, he still wanted DNP to be banned entirely.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. You know, we want to go for an outright ban because, during the years since we lost Beth, we just can’t find any legitimate industrial uses, which is why the government has been saying for all these years that it’s still legal to sell DNP.”

Bethany’s mother, Carole, said that she was frustrated at how long the process had taken to get DNP added to the poisons register and is certain that lives could have been saved with quicker action.

“We’ve lost one of the most precious things in our lives," she said. "And it’s really difficult because you watch her friends and within her peer group they’re getting married and having babies and she should really be part of that.

Bethany died aged 21 in 2017 after consuming DNP.

"And it wasn’t the mental illness that killed her, it was the access to DNP.”

Doug and Carole Shipsey have been invited to the Home Office on Monday to meet with Security Minister Tom Tugendhat.

The couple told ITV News they believe DNP had previously been classified as a poison but had “fallen off” the Poisons Register in the 1990s when changes were made to regulations. Had this not happened, they believe their daughter might still be alive.

“We know that there’s been previous legislations and bans from various uses, including agriculture especially, and it was just allowed to fall off our poisons list in the 90s.

"But that begs the question why has it taken so long to put it back on? What else might have fallen off the poisons list? There needs to be an inquiry into how that was simply allowed to happen.”

DNP heats the body from the inside out. It prevents energy being stored as fat and can damage the cells of organs such as muscle, kidney and brain.

The increase in temperature can result in seizures, coma or kidney failure. There is no known antidote.

On Monday afternoon Security Minister Tom Tugendhat said: “DNP has taken the lives of too many young people across our country.

“This is a poison. We’re introducing an effective ban to make sure that everyone understands how dangerous it is, and to prevent more people from falling victim.

“Regulation is just one of the tools we are using to control the use of DNP. We will continue to work with internet companies and other countries to stop this dangerous chemical arriving in the UK.”

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has called for an outright ban on DNP.

The organisation, which represents pharmacists, wrote to the home secretary in 2019 calling on the government to make DNP sales illegal.

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RPS English Board Chair, Thorrun Goviind said: “It’s killing people and that’s why we’re so concerned about it. So were really pleased that it’s been put on the poisons register but we want to see it banned completely.

"There is no reason that this is needed for human or animal use so we want to make sure that people can’t access it and those that are selling this and making money out of vulnerable people are held to account for it.”

Andrius Gerbutavicius’s son, Vaidotas, bought DNP on the internet. He’d been using it on and off for three years. In March 2018, Vaidotas was taken to hospital after taking DNP but he died.

At the inquest into his death the coroner ruled that action should be taken to prevent future deaths from the sale of DNP to people over the internet.

The Food Standards Agency is responsible for policing the sale of DNP online via UK based sellers. Investigators have intervened in 515 cases.

Mr Tugendhat previously said: "Around the UK, businesses and individuals use various chemicals for a wide range of legitimate uses. However, we must also minimise the risk posed by the illicit use of bomb making materials and poisons.

"It is our responsibility to ensure our robust controls of these substances are updated and controls in place against those who wish to abuse them. These steps will do just that."

The families hope this step in restricting the sale of DNP will lead to a reduction in illegal sales to vulnerable people online and ultimately get them one step closer to having the substance that killed their loved ones banned once and for all.

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