Pregabalin (Lyrica) linked to rise in deaths

A BBC report today suggests that pregabalin, which is also marketed as Lyrica, has been linked to a rise in deaths.

Pregabalin forms part of the daily medication regime for many people suffering chronic pain. Increasingly, however, it seems that it is becoming the drug of choice for many people addicted to other drugs.

Previously costing the NHS around £100 for a month’s supply, that cost has reduced in recent years to around £4 per month and this lower cost has resulted in far more being prescribed. And therein lies the problem because, according to the report, the major source of ‘black market’ pregabalin are people to whom it has been legitimately prescribed.

In conjunction with other drugs, particularly heroin, pregabalin can slow the heart rate and is a respiratory suppressant. Last year it was linked to 111 deaths in the UK.

What works for one…

It is rare to find two people suffering chronic pain who take the same daily cocktail of medication. That is because what works for one, may not work for another. Indeed, it is usually a case of trial and error to find the type and balance of medication that works for the individual.

A very common example that I see among our clients is the case of pregabalin versus gabapentin. They are similar drugs to the extent that they are both used in the treatment of epilepsy as well as neuropathic pain. However, whether somebody is taking pregabalin or gabapentin, it is not unusual to find that they have previously tried the other and, for a variety of reasons, it has either not worked for, or not agreed with, them.

Accordingly, if somebody suffering chronic pain is prescribed pregabalin, it usually means that it has proved effective for them and has consequently become a vital constituent in their daily pain arsenal.

The fear

Whilst clearly a very worrying problem, it would be deeply regrettable if today’s BBC report and the inevitable press and political reaction to it, serves ultimately to force people for whom pregabalin has proved effective to have to fight to maintain themselves on their medication.

Further and more generally, my fear is that whilst pregabalin is not an opioid, such stories of its misuse will only further fuel the growing war on painkillers in the UK, which serves only to harm all those suffering chronic pain.

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