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Timely clampdown on Pregabilin drug

The new legislation which came into force yesterday confirming the notorious prescription drug Pregabalin as a class C controlled substance was fully justified and should arguably have been introduced at a much earlier stage.

Pregabalin, also known by the brand name Lyrica and referred to by some users as Buds, was officially linked to 33 deaths across Northern Ireland in 2017, a four-fold rise on the previous year.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the number of direct fatalities has grown steadily in recent months, with further documented connections to a number of suicides, and it will have been widely noted that the prescription rate for the drug here is considerably higher than in Britain.

The medication is used by doctors to treat nerve pain, epilepsy and anxiety, but its increasingly open availability to the public in many districts has caused huge concern and it is clear that mixing it with other drugs and alcohol has resulted in appalling consequences.

There is evidence that quantities of Pregabalin which are legitimately prescribed to patients can be passed on to relatives and friends, while supplies are also routinely posted out after being purchased through unregistered websites.

The new laws remove any grey areas and specify that unlawful possession of the drug carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison, with a penalty of up to 14 years applicable to the much more serious offence of selling or supplying it.

It is appropriate that courts have the option of imposing such punishments but education has an even more important role to play and the launch of a new guide on related issues funded by the Public Health Agency is another significant step.

The booklet, which was compiled by the Extern organization and will also be circulated via GPs, offers what is described as informed and non-judgmental advice about Pregabalin.

It may have been the case in the past that the distribution of prescription drugs was treated lightly by some individuals, with young people in particular seeing little danger in occasional experimentation.

The Extern initiative sets the true position out in stark terms, and there is every reason to believe that it will help to save lives across our society.

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