Sarah Houston family call for ban on DNP slimming drug

Ross Parry The inquest was told that Sarah Houston was secretly taking DNP despite making progress in her attempts to overcome bulimia

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The family of a medical student who suffered from bulimia and died after taking a pesticide sold as a weight-loss drug want it made illegal.

An inquest heard 23-year-old Leeds University student Sarah Houston died after taking the toxic slimming pill DNP mixed with antidepressants.

Her family say it is "incomprehensible" such a drug can be bought online.

Recording a verdict of misadventure, coroner David Hinchliff said ministers should call for a change in the law.

He said: "That would be the first step on the long road to trying to get substances controlled and I hope it becomes a campaign."

'DNP-related deaths'

Although banned for human consumption, DNP is easily available online - in capsule form - because it is a legitimately-used pesticide.

However, Ms Houston's family said the promotion of it also being a slimming aid is simply about exploiting people for profit.

In a statement after Monday's inquest in Wakefield, Sarah's family said: "To lose someone so young in this way only adds to our devastation.

Analysis

DNP (2,4-dinitrophenol) is banned from human consumption but is used as a chemical pesticide.

It is sold online as a slimming aid in tablet or powder form, but doctors say the 'fat-burner' is extremely dangerous to human health.

The death of Sarah Houston, a medical student in Leeds, serves as a stark reminder of this.

Anyone who believes they may have taken DNP should seek medical advice immediately.

Signs of acute poisoning include nausea, vomiting, restlessness, flushed skin, sweating, dizziness, headaches, rapid breathing and irregular heart-beat, which can lead to coma and death.

Consuming lower amounts over longer periods can cause cataracts and skin lesions and effects on the heart, blood and nervous system.

"There have been at least 62 further deaths related to DNP.

"We as a family are distraught and are keen to make sure no other family suffer in this way.

"Whilst the FSA has banned it from human consumption, its risks are not widely known and it does not seem to affect the ease at which it can be bought from the internet.

"It seems incomprehensible to us that such a toxic substance can be available in tablet form to be sold in the UK for human consumption across the internet."

Wakefield coroner Mr Hinchliff said: "The only motive for manufacturing a toxic substance as a slimming aid would be to profit from people who have the misfortune of having a condition such as Sarah's.

"Anyone who professionally manufactures capsules to be taken as a drug have the intention of people using it as a drug. Sarah's death is a consequence of that.

"I'm aware it may have reacted with [the antidepressant] Fluoxetine but I lay the blame entirely at the door of DNP.

"I intend to make recommendations to the relevant government departments to call for a change in the law."

'One secret'

Sarah, from Chesham, Buckinghamshire, was the fifth member of her family to become a doctor.

Her father Geoff Houston said: "It's going to be a slow process but hopefully approaching the Home Office to begin with will be the right step and hopefully it will be made illegal.

"For those who are selling it, if you have any ounce of decency you must stop."

He added: "Sarah had made tremendous strides to overcome her condition. She was the best she'd ever been.

"She was very open about her condition but she did keep one secret - that she was acquiring DNP."

Police, who believe the drug was imported from Spain, said it would be difficult to ban outright because of its legitimate use as an effective pesticide.

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