Northern Ireland news

Guide launched by health service for those abusing deadly prescription drug

Pregabalin is prescribed under the name Lyrica, and is increasingly popular as a recreational drug
Seanín Graham

A GUIDE aimed at reducing the risk of a highly addictive prescription drug linked to dozens of deaths in Northern Ireland is being launched today.

Pregabalin - also known as Lyrica or 'Buds' - is medication that is used to treat nerve pain, epilepsy and anxiety but its use as a 'recreational' drug has soared and featured repeatedly at inquests over the past three years.

Social justice charity Extern is publishing advice for those who are abusing the medication on the same day that new legislation comes into force classifying pregabalin as a class C controlled substance - which means it will be illegal to possess it without a prescription, with the maximum penalty for unlawful possession being two years in prison.

Selling or supplying the drug will carry a prison sentence of 14 years.

With Northern Ireland now having the highest prescription rate for pregabalin in the UK and a big spike in the number of online purchases from unregulated websites, the new advice guide is funded by the Public Health Agency (PHA).

It is hoped the information will ultimately save lives.

Advice in the booklet ranges from information on how people can reduce their risk when swallowing, snorting or injecting the drug, to highlighting how easy it is to overdose when combining pregabalin with alcohol or other drugs.

Author Chris Rintoul, from Extern, said: "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...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 we do as much as we can to enable those people to reduce the risk of harm to themselves. That is why Extern have created this frank and open guide. It offers informed and non-judgemental advice, and I would urge anyone who is misusing pregabalin to visit www.extern.org and download a copy of the guide, or get hold of a copy from their GP. It could save their life."

The guide's release comes a week after the inquest into the deaths of two friends in a Belfast flat who had developed a dependancy on the drug.

The bodies of Stuart Robinson (31) and Kelly Watters (42) were found last January in a property in the Shankill area. A coroner ruled they had died of an accidental overdose, with fatal levels of Xanax and pregabalin in their bloodstream as well as a number of other drugs.

Latest figures revealed a fourfold increase in deaths where pregabalin was listed on the death certificate, with eight deaths in 2016, rising to 33 in 2017.

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