Recreational use of Lyrica increasing according to new study in Medical Journal of Australia

Stock image.
Stock image.

RECREATIONAL use of an anticonvulsant often prescribed as a sedative is growing, according to a study published this week by the Medical Journal of Australia.

Originally developed as an anti-epileptic agent, pregabalin, commonly sold as Lyrica, is now also used to treat fibromyalgia, anxiety, and neuropathic pain.

When taken in higher doses or combining it with other drugs such as alcohol, opiods, cannabis and benzodiazepines, the sedative or euphoric effects are increased.

In Australia, the number of prescriptions has risen dramatically since 2013, and by 2015 the total Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) costs for pregabalin were among the highest for any drug.

Rose Crossin, lead author and a research officer at the Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre in Melbourne, said pregabalin misuse has been on the rise around the world.

“Individuals take higher than recommended doses of pregabalin for its euphoric effects,” she said.

“There is a growing black market for pregabalin in populations at high risk of misuse, including in prisons, where pregabalin is sometimes prescribed for pain relief in preference to opioids.”

The Centre’s deputy clinical director Dr Shalini Arunogiri said prescribers of pregabalin needed to be conscious and cautious of their patient’s history.

“Pregabalin is a medication that can be associated with risks of harm and dependence,” she said.

“GPs need to be aware that if their patient has a history of substance use, it is more likely [they could become] dependent on pregabalin.

“ If they have a history of mental health problems, particularly suicidal ideation, then this is a high-risk medication.

“Our message is to take special precaution and care with pregabalin.”

Australian Medical Association WA Council of GPs Simon Torvaldsen said he did not believe Lyrica was being widely misused.

“It is very commonly prescribed for chronic pain and it is actually quite a useful drug for neuropathic pain such as sciatica,” he said.

“The main side effect is sedation, which if you can’t sleep due to chronic pain is quite helpful.

“There has also been a lot of publicity about doctors not prescribing too many opiates, and pregabalin treats pain more effectively so there has been a noticeable shift to prescribing it.”

Dr Torvaldsen said when combined with other drugs Lyrica could cause delusions, hallucinations, drowsiness and confusion.

“It is a relatively new drug that carries some risk,” he said.

“It was originally trialled as a drug to treat epilepsy but was found to be much more effective as a painkiller.

“I think there are people out there who are dependent on it to a degree but I my suspicion is Lyrica is not being used as a party drug, but rather possibly being overused by people who want to relax.”

Dr Arunogiri said in the United Kingdom, pregabalin will be scheduled from April 2019 to increase regulation.

“That’s on our radar and it’s something we should start to think about,” she said.

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