A prescription drug described as the “new valium” is to be classified as a class C controlled substance after it was linked to a growing number of UK deaths.
Pregabalin – a substance used to treat nerve pain, epilepsy and anxiety – is increasingly being handed out too readily and being used recreationally, according to doctors and pharmacists. They say that when it is mixed with other substances it can lead to overdose. Deaths connected to pregabalin have risen from four in 2012 to 111 last year, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Data provided by NHS Digital shows that prescriptions for pregabalin have shot up more than 11-fold in the last decade, from 476,102 in 2006 to 5,547,560 last year. The government has now accepted in principle that pregabalin should be reclassified as a class C controlled substance, which would mean patients could not obtain a repeat prescription.
Yasir Abbasi, a consultant psychiatrist and clinical director for addiction services at Mersey Care NHS foundation trust, said the rising prescription numbers were worrying as, if used inappropriately, pregabalin could be hazardous.
“Doctors need to be cautious about who they are giving it to and be aware of the potential of the drug to be misused and the fact it could be addictive because there is not much information at the moment. The drug was approved for medical use in 2004 and we need more robust evidence,” Abbasi said.
Addaction, the largest drug and alcohol charity, is calling for GPs to be given guidance about how to prescribe pregabalin, particularly to people with substance misuse history. The charity noted that deaths linked to the drug had risen more quickly than those linked to new psychoactive substances.
Rachel Britton, Addaction’s lead pharmacist, said: “The deaths linked to it – that will be people taking a cocktail of substances that affect the central nervous system eg heroin, pregabalin and benzodiazepines. It eventually depresses respiration, controlled by the brain, and people who take these cocktails die.”
Those who use pregabalin recreationally call it “Budweiser” because it induces a state similar to drunkenness. It makes users feel relaxed and euphoric in a similar way to tranquilisers. It can also enhance the euphoric effects of other drugs, such as opiates, and is likely to increase the risks when taken in this way.