UK government to reclassify pregabalin and gabapentin after rise in deaths

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: (Published 25 September 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j4441
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

The UK government is to reclassify the prescription drug pregabalin as a class C controlled substance, after experts issued safety warnings following an increase in deaths linked to its use.

A Home Office consultation, which also proposes reclassifying gabapentin, has been launched in response to growing pressure for the drug to be reclassified to tackle misuse and addiction.

Last year the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs wrote a letter to the government calling for pregabalin and gabapentin to be reclassified in response to the growing number of deaths.1 The BMA also urged the government to act after passing a motion at this year’s annual representative meeting in June.2

Pregabalin and gabapentin are prescription only anticonvulsant drugs used in the management of conditions such as epilepsy, postherpetic neuralgia, diabetic peripheral neuropathy and fibromyalgia, and neuropathic pain.

But concerns have been raised that they are being given to patients too readily. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs said that prescribing increased by 350% for pregabalin and 150% for gabapentin in just five years.

If the government proceeds with the reclassification, patients would not be able to get the drugs on repeat prescription.

Official figures show that in England and Wales the number of deaths linked to pregabalin rose from four in 2012 to 111 in 2016. The number linked to gabapentin rose from eight to 59 in the same period.3

Sarah Newton, the Home Office minister for crime, safeguarding, and vulnerability, said, “Any death related to misuse of drugs is a tragedy, and that is why we have published a comprehensive new drugs strategy to tackle the illicit drug trade, protect the most vulnerable, and help those with drug dependency to recover and turn their lives around.

“We have accepted the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs advice to control pregabalin and gabapentin as class C drugs in principle, subject to the outcome of a public consultation to assess the impact on the healthcare sector. We will launch the consultation shortly.”


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