Sarah Houston tragically dies of banned slimming drug DNP

The devastated parents of medical student Sarah Houston, 23, have launched a campaign to raise awareness of the banned slimming drug – DNP, after the dangerous diet pill finally claimed her life.

Geoff and Gina Houston, the parents of Sarah Houston, were outside Wakefield Coroner’s Court yesterday where the coroner David Hinchliff said DNP was ‘entirely’ responsible for Miss Houston’s death.

Sarah Houston

Sarah Houston: Photograph: Ross Parry.co.uk/syndication

Banned Slimming drug DNP

DNP is a slimming aid that is banned for human consumption, but you can easily buy it online, and the side effects include ‘nausea, vomiting, restlessness, flushed skin, sweating, dizziness, headaches, rapid respiration and irregular heart-beat, possibly leading to coma and death’.

The DNP substance is actually marketed as a pesticide, and as such, should not be taken by humans, but it is known that bodybuilders use it as a weight loss aid as it is thought to dramatically boost metabolism.



At her inquest yesterday, Hincliff 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 has the intention of people using it as a drug. Sarah’s death is a consequence of that.’

Miss Houston was taking DNP alongside a prescription anti-depressant called Fluoxetine – also known as Prozac, and the inquest heard that it was this combination of the two drugs that could have proved fatal as they are both known to boost the bodies metabolism.

Miss Houston apparently refused to call an ambulance on the evening before her death, when she felt hot and unwell, she was breathing heavily, had yellow eyes and had to have two cold showers to try and cool herself down. She managed to text a friend the next day but was found dead in her bedroom by a flatmate. Her family, who are all qualified doctors, now want to lobby the Government to make DNP illegal.

Her father Geoff, 55, said: ‘For those who are selling it, if you have any ounce of decency you must stop. The world has lost a bright, bubbly person who would have gone on to making people’s lives better. Sarah loved life and was passionate about helping others less fortunate than herself.’

It has been reported that Miss Houston had taken 38 capsules from a packet of 100 of Dinitrophenol (DNP) and the drug was detected in her blood, but she was not suicidal at the time of her death, and although she had been seeing a psychiatrist for her eating disorder for three years, she had improved and she was no longer classed as officially bulimic.

Sarah Houston

Sarah Houston: Photograph: Ross Parry.co.uk/syndication

Toxicologist Matthew Wade said of DNP: ‘Because it is a banned substance, we don’t really know what would be a safe level to have in the body. The drug affects different people in different ways. We have heard of several deaths caused by DNP and we know that whatever the dose, it can be life-threatening. It is not intended for human consumption and it is a poisonous substance. It therefore seems likely DNP consumption caused Sarah’s death.’

And Dr Graham Mould, who is a forensic toxicologist, said taking DNP with the anti-depressant – may have proved fatal as the effects could have been ‘exacerbated’. He said: ‘We don’t know how long Sarah had been taking DNP but it may have accumulated in her system. It increases the body’s metabolic rate.

Miss Houston made no secret of her battle with bulimia, and psychiatrist Dr John Morgan said: ‘Her drive to lose weight was always there and she was fearful of weight gain. She was most likely taking DNP to satisfy her own need to control her weight,’ he said. ‘Sarah was a healthy weight, with a body mass index of 23, and no one knew she had been taking the drug alongside her prescribed anti-depressants.’

He conformed that she had been ‘bingeing’ twice daily and ‘purging’ eight times a day, but she had managed to reduce this to around an average of once a fortnight. ‘She felt like she had the knowledge to combat her eating disorder,’ he added.

Geoff and Gina Houston

Geoff and Gina Houston: Photograph: Ross Parry.co.uk

Miss Houston’s family issued a statement in which they said: ‘It seems incomprehensible to us that such a toxic substance (DNP) can be available in tablet form to be sold in the UK for human consumption across the internet. It is perhaps only through her death that the strongest message can come out. If anything can be learnt from Sarah’s death then that might help little bit in alleviating her loss.’

It is thought that the capsules were purchased from an online site originating in Spain.

Detective Constable Kate Lonsdale said: ‘The website does flag up that the product is not for human consumption but by selling it in tablet form, they are knowing full well that it is going to be used for weight loss. It will be difficult to ban it outright because it is still legitimately used as an effective pesticide. The way to control consumption is through education.’

Mr Hincliff recorded a verdict of misadventure, and said that he hoped there would be a ‘campaign’ to get substances such as DNP controlled by law.

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