Anti-anxiety drug pregabalin raises concerns in UK

 Anti-anxiety drug pregabalin raises concerns in UK


 The anxiolytic has been linked to deaths in the UK, prompting people taking the drug to speak out about its debilitating side effects.

 The first time Jade had a panic attack, she called an ambulance. Terrified and feeling like her world had suddenly turned upside down, she had just stopped taking pregabalin, a medication she had been prescribed for anxiety.

 Two years later, she is still trying to wean herself off it.

 “If I miss a dose, I have trouble breathing, I feel depersonalized, I have panic attacks, I am extremely agitated, I have the impression that I am going to faint,” confides the young woman. of 29 years at Euronews Health.

 “I don’t think the doctors realize the seriousness of the situation.”

 According to one study, the drug has been prescribed to more than 8 million people in the UK.

 Over the past five years in Britain, almost 3,400 deaths linked to pregabalin have been recorded, including 779 in 2022 alone, compared to 9 deaths ten years earlier, according to a Sunday Times investigation.

 These figures have highlighted the potential dangers of this widely prescribed drug and highlighted long-standing concerns about drug dependence.

 What is pregabalin?

 Also known by the brand names Alzain, Axalid, and Lyrica, pregabalin is an anticonvulsant that was originally prescribed to treat epilepsy but is now commonly used to treat anxiety and nerve pain.

Although its mechanisms are not yet fully understood, pregabalin may work by reducing abnormal electrical activity in the brains of epileptics and by controlling chemicals that cause anxiety and nerve pain by blocking specific neurotransmitters, according to the National United Kingdom Health Service (NHS).

Common doses of pregabalin range from 150 mg to 600 mg, usually divided into 2 or 3 pills per day, although it can also be taken in liquid form.

 In 2019, pregabalin was classified as Category C of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, making it illegal to possess without a written prescription. These controls are due to “the increase in the number of deaths”, claimed the British government.

Side effects listed include: headache, drowsiness, diarrhea, mood changes, feeling unwell, swelling of the limbs, blurred vision, erection difficulties, memory problems and weight gain.

The NHS says these conditions are usually "mild and go away on their own", but many people who have been prescribed the drug say they have had negative experiences.

Lives devastated by this drug

Pregabalin can cause side effects such as brain fog, fatigue, and depression.

 Although it is beneficial for the treatment of certain conditions, some people become dependent on the "euphoric" or relaxed state that pregabalin can induce, quickly developing a tolerance, before needing higher doses, to achieve the same feeling.

 For others, the side effects have been debilitating, but the withdrawal symptoms are worse, leading to dependence that harms quality of life.

 Sarah*, a 44-year-old social worker living in London, was prescribed pregabalin to treat fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by chronic pain, and also suffered extreme withdrawal symptoms, after deciding to stop gradually the medicine when it ceases to be effective for the pain.

 "I ended up suffering from depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, freezing chills, extremely loud tinnitus, weird turns and seizures, which was not the case before taking "I stopped taking pregabalin completely almost four years ago and still struggle with long-term withdrawal symptoms," she explains.

 Caroline, a UK-based care worker who was put on pregabalin for nerve pain, reported side effects of weight gain, terrible brain fog, memory problems and even loose and broken teeth .

 “I am absolutely terrified of stopping this medication,” says the 55-year-old.

 Sufferers have turned to online support spaces, notably the private Facebook group “Lyrica Survivors (Pregabalin and Gabapentin Support)”, which has more than 15,000 members.

 “People's lives have been devastated by this drug: loss of life, loss of job, lawsuits due to altered mental status due to the drug, removal of children from home, separation of families, financial hardship and, of course, permanent disability in many cases,” says Amy Ireland, administrator of the Facebook group.

 Most members are looking for advice on how to stop taking the drug, with the group's main goal being to raise awareness of the addictive effects of this type of drug known as gabapentinoid.

"Many people think that withdrawal effects mean that you are dependent on the drug, which implies some kind of abuse. This is not the case," says Dr. Mark Horowitz, a psychiatrist who specializes in helping stopping psychiatric medications.

 “Physical dependence is a predictable response of the body and brain to repeated exposure to psychoactive drugs like pregabalin,” he adds.

What can help people addicted to pregabalin?

 While prescriptions for the drug have increased, services to help people who feel trapped by pregabalin remain insufficient, some say.

 “The three basic principles for safely stopping gabapentinoids like pregabalin are, first, to do so slowly. It can take months or even years to stop medications that you have been taking for many years,” says Mark Horowitz, who runs a clinic in London to help people stop taking medications for psychiatric disorders and who last month published a clinical manual called "Maudsley Prescribing Guidelines." ).

 "The second principle is that every person is a little different. There are probably risk factors, such as the longer you have been taking medication or increasing the dose, the harder it is to stop," he says. -he.

 He points out, however, that little research has been done on potential individual risk factors, with each patient subject to trial and error.

 The third and final principle of stopping pregabalin is known as "hyperbolic tapering", which involves gradually reducing the amount of medication taken.

 “As the doses decrease, you have to go slower and slower, like going down a vertical cliff,” says Dr. Horowitz.

 Mark Horowitz believes that medical professionals need to re-evaluate short-term treatment methods for mental disorders such as anxiety.

 "Pregabalin is a dangerous drug. It is one of the fastest growing causes of accidental overdose. It affects the way we think, and affects memory and cognition. It affects sleep, causes problems "There are a whole host of negative effects associated with long-term use. And it's hard to stop," he warns.

 "I don't think there's a drug that has long-term effects for anxiety that doesn't cause all of these effects," he adds.

 According to some experts, most pregabalin-related deaths occur when it is taken in combination with opiates.

"Pregabalin could be effective and helpful for many people, but patients should follow their doctor's advice and report any side effects they experience," says Glyn Lewis, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at University College London, in a press release.

 Glyn Lewis is part of a team leading an NHS-funded study to investigate the effectiveness of pregabalin in treating anxiety in people who have not responded to antidepressants. This will also be done to determine if there are any withdrawal symptoms when stopping the medication.

Approved for the first time in 2004 and sold by the manufacturer, Pfizer, pregabalin is increasingly prescribed in Europe, according to a study published in 2021.

The study indicates that in Sweden, for example, pregabalin was found in 28% of cases of fatal poisoning among drug users.

*The name has been changed at the request of the interviewee.



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