Variability in the quality of overdose advice in Summary of Product Characteristics (SPC) documents: gut decontamination recommendations for CNS drugs

Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2009 Jan;67(1):83-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2125.2008.03322.x. Epub 2008 Nov 17.


Aims: Deliberate self-poisoning is a major cause of morbidity and mortality. The Summary of Product Characteristics (SPC) document is a legal requirement for all drugs, and Section 4.9 addresses the features of toxicity and clinical advice on management of overdose. The quality and appropriateness of this advice have received comparatively little attention.

Methods: Section 4.9 of the SPC was examined for all drugs in the central nervous system (CNS) category of the British National Formulary. Advice concerning gut decontamination was examined with respect to specific interventions: induced vomiting, oral activated charcoal, gastric lavage, and other interventions. Data were compared with standard reference sources for clinical management advice in poisoning. These were graded 'A' if no important differences existed, 'B' if differences were noted but not thought clinically important, and 'C' if differences were thought to be clinically significant.

Results: SPC documents were examined for 258 medications from 67 manufacturers. The overall agreement was 'A' in 23 (8.9%), 'B' in 28 (10.9%) and 'C' in 207 (80.2%). Discrepancies were due to inappropriate recommendation of induced emesis in 21.7% (95% confidence interval 17.1, 27.1), gastric lavage in 38.4% (32.7, 44.4), other gut decontamination in 5.8% (3.6, 9.4) and failure to recommend oral activated charcoal in 57.4% (51.1, 63.4).

Conclusions: Gut decontamination advice in SPC documents with respect to CNS drugs was inadequate. Possible reasons for the observed discrepancies and ways of improving the consistency of advice are proposed.

MeSH terms

  • Central Nervous System Agents / poisoning*
  • Charcoal / therapeutic use
  • Drug Overdose / therapy
  • Gastric Lavage / methods*
  • Humans
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic / standards*
  • Vomiting / chemically induced


  • Central Nervous System Agents
  • Charcoal