Reclassifying pregabalin and gabapentin as controlled drugs is creating ‘fear and anxiety’ among the patients who use them responsibly, a charity has said.
Pain Concern, a Scotland-based health charity, said the circumstances surrounding the rise in the number of deaths associated with the drugs ‘haven’t been properly examined’.
This comes after official figures revealed last month that there were 111 deaths related to pregabalin in 2016 and 59 related to gabapentin, compared with four and eight respectively in 2012.
As a result, the Government announced that it had accepted recommendations from advisers to make them a class C drug, subject to a consultation.
In June. BMA leaders called for pregabalin to be reclassifyed as a controlled drug following evidence it is increasingly used recreationally and in prison populations.
Following the Government’s announcement, Dr Andrew Green, clinical and prescribing policy lead for the BMA’s GP Committee, welcomed the change in legislation, saying the drugs ‘have a significant potential for dependence’.
But Heather Wallace, chair of Pain Concern, said the people who are not misusing the drugs ‘feel they are being punished for something they haven’t done’.
She said: ‘In many cases it is difficult to find the right combination of pain relief, and we know from our helpline that people have been left fearful and confused by this proposal and all the publicity it has generated.
‘It’s premature and risks harming people who are using these medicines because there is nothing else for them that works’.
However, several studies have warned GPs against prescribing the two drugs.
A Cochrane Review from June this year found that gabapentin ‘can provide good levels of pain relief to some people with postherpetic neuralgia and peripheral diabetic neuropathy’, but added that its effectiveness for other types of neuropathic pain ‘is very limited’.
Meanwhile, another study published in Addiction last year, that found that misuse of gabapentin was at a staggering ‘40-65% among individuals with prescriptions’.
GPs have previously been told by NHS England to prescribe Lyrica, and not pregabalin, for neuropathic pain – a decision which was later overturned by a High Court decision.