Warning on recreational abuse of prescription drug pregabalin normally used to treat epilepsy

A study indicates that misuse of prescription drug pregabalin, typically used to treat epilepsy and anxiety, among drug users is a “serious emerging issue”.

The study into pregabalin, sold as Lyrica, analysed 498 urine samples from 440 people who were opioid substitution patients. Of the 440 people, 39 tested positive for pregabalin, representing 9.2% of the total sample.

According to the study: “Only 10 patients from this group were prescribed this drug to our knowledge, thus giving an estimated rate of misuse of 7.0%.”

The study was conducted by researchers at the HSE National Drug Treatment Centre Laboratory in Dublin, and the findings have been published in the Irish Medical Journal.

Other drugs detected in pregabalin-positive patients were opiates (31.8%), cocaine (11.4%), benzodiazepine (79.5%), and cannabis (77.8%).

“Our study confirms that pregabalin abuse is taking place amongst the addiction services population. We believe that misuse of this prescription drug is a serious emerging issue which should be monitored carefully.”

Pregabalin was initially thought to have a low misuse potential but, according to the research, there have been recent reports of it being abused, including by opiate-using and prison populations in Britain, with “Belfast recreational users stating that pregabalin induced a state similar to drunkenness, hence the street name ‘Budweisers’”.

The four researchers involved in the study — Sinéad McNamara, Siobhán Stokes, Ross Kilduff, and Áine Shine — said they developed a method to screen for the drug following requests for pregabalin testing from clinicians in addiction services in Ireland who suspected its misuse.

The sampling took place between June and August 2014 and represented about 4% of all patients in opioid substitution treatment. Most were on methadone; 66% were male and 34% were female; while 41% of positive patients were male and 59% were female, “suggesting a possible gender-based bias in usage”.

The report states: “Normal drug screening for patients in methadone maintenance does not include pregabalin and so this drug may be taken in efforts to evade detection of drug use.

“The potential dangers of pregabalin should not be underestimated. In 2013 there were 33 drug-related deaths in England and Wales where pregabalin was mentioned on the death certificate. Of 10 patients attending a Belfast hospital following recreational pregabalin abuse, six presented with seizures.

“We have seen that pregabalin has significant abuse potential and is an attractive drug to opioid dependant drug users.”

The authors added: “There is no information as yet in the public domain as to the numbers of deaths related to pregabalin in Ireland.”


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