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Deadly diet pill reclassified as poison after reportedly killing more than 30 people

DNP, a chemical found in some diet pills, has been reclassified as a poison in the UK.

DNP, a chemical found in some diet pills, has been reclassified as a poison in the UK.

Photo: PrathanChorruangsak/Getty Images

  • DNP, a chemical compound used in diet pills, has been added to the UK’s list of regulated poisons.
  • This follows a campaign by the family of 21-year-old Bethany Shipsey, who died after taking diet pills containing the substance. 
  • DNP “is a toxic industrial chemical. It is not at all fit for human consumption,” says Dr Simon Hill.

A chemical compound used in slimming pills, which is reported to have killed at least 33 people in the UK, has been added to the country’s list of regulated poisons. It follows a year-long campaign by the families of those who have died.

DNP, or 2,4-Dinitrophenol, is classified as an explosive and banned for human consumption but has been marketed on the internet as a weight-loss aid.

“It is a toxic industrial chemical. It is not at all fit for human consumption,” Dr Simon Hill from the National Poisons Information Service said in an ITN interview.

“It is not a medication; it’s not a recreational drug, it’s not a nutritional supplement, it’s a toxic chemical. It is extremely dangerous at all doses. There is no safe human dose, and therefore it can, and does, often lead to death.”

The toxin will be regulated under the Poisons Act 1972 from 1 October 2023, meaning anyone who wishes to buy it will require a license from a registered pharmacist. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society is also calling for an outright ban on DNP.

“Really, it’s concerning that people are going to these lengths to make money from vulnerable people. And also, that these people are so confused and concerned about their body image, and probably haven’t turned to other forms of support,” says Thorrun Govind of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

“As a pharmacist, my role is to help people access forms of support and make sure that they’re not using substances which they can find online because we don’t really know what’s in them.

“With DNP, we know that it’s dangerous; it’s killing people, and that’s why we’re so concerned about it.”

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Doug and Carole Shipsey lost their 21-year-old daughter Bethany in 2017 after she took diet pills containing DNP, which she purchased online.

According to the BBC, Bethany’s parents, who claim DNP has caused 33 deaths in 10 years, have campaigned for a ban on the substance and met with UK government officials on Monday who confirmed the new legislation.

The couple were pleased with how their meeting with Security Minister Tom Tugendhat went but stated that an earlier ban could have saved their daughter’s life. 

“There was a big question in our mind why DNP wasn’t going to be banned outright, and following a detailed discussion with Tom Tugendhat and his team who work on the poison legislation, what they have actually clarified to us is legislation which goes on in October this year amounts to a complete ban – meaning it’s totally illegal for all uses, including any industrial uses,” said Bethany’s father, Doug.

“We think this will stop DNP becoming widely available over the internet, and we don’t ever foresee there will ever be some industrial uses because we didn’t find any ourselves, so we do agree this is a complete ban.”  

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