A toxic chemical marketed as a ‘slimming pill’ is to be added to a list of poisons by the UK government after it was connected to at least 33 deaths.
DNP - or 2.4 Dinitrophenol - is banned for human consumption but has been advertised online as something that aids weight loss and a ‘fat burner’. It is also classified as an explosive and contains chemicals used in First World War bombs. There has been one recorded death from DNP use in Ireland in 2015 and it is illegal for the chemical to be sold for use as a weight loss product and is not allowed in food here.
From October 1, DNP will be regulated in the UK under the Poisons Act 1972 which means anyone who wishes to buy it will need a licence from a registered pharmacist.
Families of those who have died after consuming DNP have been campaigning for it to be classified as a poison.
Bethany Shipsey died in 2017 aged 21, after she buying diet pills that had DNP in them from a website in Ukraine.
Bethany’s father Doug said he welcomed the UK Home Office’s decision but wishes DNP would be banned completely. Her mother Carole added she felt frustrated at how long the process has taken to get DNP regulated under the Poisons Act and believes lives could have been saved had it happened sooner.
The couple is due to meet with the UK’s security minister Tom Tugendhat today, to discuss how to stop the sale of DNP and support prosecutions of sellers. They will be joined by Andrius Gerbutavicius, whose son Vaidotas died in 2018 after consuming DNP.
The Shipseys told ITV they believe DNP was previously on the poisons register but had “fallen off” in the 1990s after changes were made to the regulations. They say their daughter might still be alive if this hadn’t happened.
Student Eloise Parry also died after taking slimming pills containing DNP. The 21 year-old suffered a “distressing death” after swallowing eight diet tablets with DNP in them, a manslaughter trial heard in 2020.
Prosecutor Richard Barraclough QC told a jury online forums compared consuming the chemical to “Russian roulette”, adding: “If you take it, you might live, or you might die.”
Ms Parry, from Shrewsbury, in Shropshire, “became at least psychologically addicted to and dependent on the chemical” after she started taking it in February 2015, the Old Bailey was told.
The court heard DNP is particularly dangerous to those who suffer from eating disorders as the toxicity level is relative to a person’s weight.
On 19 March, 2015, Miss Parry was admitted to Wrexham hospital after collapsing and texted a friend saying: “I f***** up. A and E. DNP overdose. Feel so f****** stupid. I knew I could not control my eating disorder well enough to take them safely, I knew it.”
She added: “It’s not going to matter how skinny I am if I’m dead.”
President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Claire Anderson, said: “Including DNP in the Poisons Act is a positive move as it will restrict its availability, but what’s really needed is an outright ban to reduce the risk to the public.
“Australia has already classified DNP as a substance of such a danger to health as to warrant prohibition of sale and we’d like the UK to follow suit.
“We are concerned that DNP is still in circulation and want to see a firm commitment to prosecuting those who make profits from it. We also call on social media companies to remove content promoting or selling DNP to further reduce harm.”
Tom Tugendhat said ahead of the meeting today: “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 [there are] controls in place against those who wish to abuse them. These steps will do just that.”