Prescription drugs pregabalin and gabapentin are to be reclassified as class C controlled substances from April 2019,
The move comes after experts highlighted rising numbers of fatalities linked to the drugs. The change means it will be illegal to possess pregabalin and gabapentin without a prescription. It will also be illegal to supply or sell them to others.
The drugs, which are used to treat nerve pain, epilepsy and anxiety, can bring about an elevated mood in users but can also have serious side effects, particularly when used in combination with other drugs.
In 2016, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) raised concerns over medicinal misuse, illegal diversion of the drugs and addiction. It recommended that pregabalin and gabapentin should be controlled as class C Drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
The government accepted the ACMD’s advice and launched a public consultation to assess the impact on the healthcare sector. Pharmacies, doctors, pharmaceutical companies and patients responded to the consultation, which was published 15th October 2018, backing the tighter controls of the drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations.
Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability Victoria Atkins said:
Any death related to the misuse of drugs is a tragedy. We accepted expert advice and will change the law to help prevent misuse of pregabalin and gabapentin and addiction.
While drug misuse is lower than it was 10 years ago, we remain committed to reducing the harm it causes.
That is why we have published a comprehensive strategy to tackle the illicit drug trade, protect the most vulnerable. We also want to help those with drug dependency to recover and turn their lives around.
The law change will mean the drugs are still available for legitimate use on prescription. To minimise the chances of pregabalin and gabapentin falling into the wrong hands or being stockpiled by patients, stronger controls will be in place to ensure accountability.
Doctors will need to physically sign prescriptions, rather than electronic copies being accepted by pharmacists. Pharmacists must dispense the drugs within 28 days of the prescription being written.
They will come into force in April 2019, to ensure that there is enough lead-in time for those in the health care sector to adapt to the new measures.
It comes as Public Health England is reviewing what it says is the “growing problem” of prescription drug addiction. NHS data suggests 1 in 11 patients is being prescribed medication which could be addictive, or difficult to come off. This includes sedatives, painkillers and antidepressants.
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