The UK government will consider making two anticonvulsant drugs class C controlled substances, after a rise in deaths linked to the medications.
Pregabalin and gabapentin – used in the management of conditions including epilepsy and neuropathic pain – can induce elevated mood and euphoria and can be deadly when mixed with depressants.
They have become popular within opioid-abusing populations, including in prisons, according to the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which called for the drugs to be made class C which would mean patients can’t get repeat prescriptions and those found in possession can face a maximum penalty of two years in prison.
The number of deaths linked to pregabalin rose from four in 2012 to 111 in 2016 in England and Wales, while numbers were up from eight of 59 for gabapentin, according to The BMJ.
There are also concerns doctors are handing out the drugs too readily – with rates of prescribing up by 350% for pregabalin and 150% for gabapentin over five years.
In a letter to the UK government, the advisory council said the potential for abuse of pregabalin and gabapentin “is similar to that of tramadol”.
“Pregabalin causes a ‘high’ or elevated mood in users; the side effects may include chest pain, wheezing, vision changes and less commonly, hallucinations,” the council said. “Gabapentin can produce feelings of relaxation, calmness and euphoria. Some users have reported that the ‘high’ from snorted gabapentin can be similar to taking a stimulant.
Home Office minister for crime Sarah Newton said the government had accepted the council’s advice on the reclassification “in principle, subject to the outcome of a public consultation to assess the impact on the healthcare sector”.