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Drug linked to 33 deaths in Northern Ireland is reclassified

The prescription drug pregabalin is now being treated as a class C drug…

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A prescription drug which has been linked to dozens of deaths in Northern Ireland is now being treated as a class C drug.

Pregabalin, also known as Lyrica, or ‘buds’, is used to treat nerve pain, epilepsy and anxiety.

The Norther Ireland Statistics and Research Agency has revealed a fourfold increase in deaths where pregabalin was listed on the death certificate from eight in 2016, to 33 in 2017.

New legislation comes into effect this week classifying pregabalin as a class C controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

This means it is now illegal to possess pregabalin without a prescription, with the maximum penalty for unlawful possession of the drug being two years in prison.

Selling or supplying pregabalin can now carry a prison sentence of 14 years.

Northern Ireland currently has the highest prescription rate for pregabalin within the UK, with a growing illicit market for the drug here.

The charity Extern is publishing a new guide which aims to reduce the risk of death and harm for people who are problem users of pregabalin.

It is aimed at people who are using pregabalin when it hasn’t been prescribed for them, and people who have a prescription, but who are overusing the drug.

Chris Rintoul, from Extern’s Drugs & Alcohol Consultancy Service, said: “Just because pregabalin is a prescription drug, does not mean that it is not dangerous.

“In an ideal world, pregabalin would only be used as and how it is prescribed.

“Unfortunately, however, and even with the introduction of today’s new legislation, the reality is that there are thousands of people in Northern Ireland, and many more globally, who will continue to use this drug who have not been prescribed it, or who will find themselves using it outside of their prescription limits.

“It is vital therefore, that as a society, we do as much as we can to enable those people to reduce the risk of harm to themselves.”

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