A coroner has called for a Home Office review into the sale of a “lethal compound” marketed as diet pills that killed a 21-year-old man who consumed them.
An inquest heard Vaidotas Gerbutavicius told his father he feared he would be “dead within an hour” and that he felt a “burning sensation” after ingesting several of the illegal toxic tablets in March 2018.
Ruling the cause of his death as consumption of dinitrophenol (DNP), which is also used in explosives, senior coroner Nadia Persaud said legislation supposed to prevent the sale of the substance was “wholly inadequate”.
DNP was marketed as a diet pill in the US in the 1930s, but selling it for human consumption has since been made illegal in the UK by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
Following the ruling, Ms Persaud told Walthamstow Coroner’s Court on Tuesday: “The current legislation is wholly inadequate and in no way an appropriate means by which to deal with offences that can result in the deaths of those who consume DNP.
“Those affected are often young and vulnerable people.”
The inquest heard Mr Gerbutavicius, a construction worker from Lithuania, had been overweight until he was 18 but had started to lose weight in 2016, which his family thought was a result of him growing older and having a new girlfriend.
It was only on the day of his death that they realised he had been taking the slimming pills, which he purchased from a US seller over the dark web.
Mr Gerbutavicius had also consumed vodka and rum alongside the DNP, but toxicologists ruled the alcohol was unlikely to have caused his death.
The inquest heard Mr Gerbutavicius had called his father, Andrius, on the morning of March 10 2018, telling him “no-one could help” him and that he “would be dead within the hour”.
His parents and girlfriend called an ambulance, and he was taken to Whipps Cross Hospital in Leytonstone, London, where he died four hours later after suffering a cardiac arrest and with an extremely high temperature.
The inquest was told nurses had used up all their ice packs attempting to cool Mr Gerbutavicius down, who later became “hysterical” and had complained of pain in “my head and all over my body”.
Senior coroner Ms Persaud said: “It is unlawful to sell DNP for human consumption, as it is an extremely harmful substance, but Vaidotas was able to purchase these pills over the internet.
“His actions appear to be impulsive and he had the lethal compound immediately available to him… (and) there is no antidote available.”
She added “DNP is not a drug, it’s a poison”, and it “can still be easily accessed over the internet”.
Ms Persaud ruled out suicide as the cause of Mr Gerbutavicius’ death because he appeared to have acted “impulsively” following a disagreement with his girlfriend, and had been planning for his future.
Barry Wright, from Northern Carolina, US, who sold the drug to Mr Gerbutavicius, was sentenced to seven years imprisonment in Florida in February 2020.
Mr Gerbutavicius’ father, who was present at the inquest via videolink, had flown to the US to see Wright receive the maximum prison sentence available.
Since 2017, at least 30 people have died from taking DNP in the UK.
Those who take DNP can suffer with high temperatures, nausea, abdominal pain, seizures, and organ damage.