DEADLY PRESCRIPTION: Anti-anxiety medication called pregabalin linked to over 3,400 overdose deaths in the U.K. over the last 5 years
By Laura Harris // Mar 08, 2024

A commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medication in the United Kingdom was linked to over 3,400 overdose deaths in the past five years.

The drug in question is pregabalin, known by its brand names Alzain, Axalid and Lyrica and was introduced to the U.K. market in 2004 by Pfizer. The drug serves as an anticonvulsant for epilepsy, a pain reliever and a medication for anxiety and depression. But the drug became a double-edged sword, as it made addiction and mortality rates for those taking it surged. (Related: Treatment with epilepsy drugs shown to increase risk in suicidal behavior in patients aged 15 to 24.)

In 2022, pregabalin was prescribed to over 8.5 million people in the U.K. as a supposedly safer alternative to opioids. These patients reported noticeable improvements in their symptoms, but the lack of awareness regarding its addictive potential contributed to widespread dependence.

Pregabalin, when combined with alcohol and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, as well as opioids and benzodiazepines, could lead to severe respiratory and cardiac complications and sometimes result in fatalities.

For instance, prescription rates for pregabalin and other similar antidepressants are on the rise in poorer communities due to limited access to therapeutic solutions. Deprived areas, where anxiety and chronic pain are prevalent, overly depend on potentially addictive medications.

Moreover, pregabalin was classified as a Class C drug in 2019, making it illegal to possess or supply without a valid prescription. However, the legal restriction against pregabalin has given rise to a black market catering to those addicted to the drug.

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According to the latest statistics, pregabalin-related deaths have the fastest-rising death toll of any drug in the U.K., closely trailing opiates, cocaine and benzodiazepines. Pregabalin has been linked to nearly 3,400 deaths in the last five years, marking a frightening increase from just nine fatalities in 2012. Meanwhile, 2022 alone witnessed 779 pregabalin-related deaths. The drug is now included in a third of all drug-related fatalities.

These figures paint a grim picture of the widespread impact of pregabalin misuse and underscore the necessity for proactive measures to mitigate its adverse effects.

Dangerous recreational pregabalin use rising in the U.K.

Pregabalin, available in various forms, such as capsules, oral solutions and long-acting tablets, has gained popularity for its euphoric and calming effects.

However, Dr. Joe McEvoy, a general practitioner in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, warned the public about the dangers of taking pregabalin for recreational purposes and buying it online or in the streets.

"They may be getting some pregabalin in there or they may be getting a dose many times higher than anticipated. It is a very dangerous drug when used in the wrong doses, by the wrong person, or when it is mixed with other medication in a way that we cannot really predict what the outcome will be," McEvoy said.

The calming effects of pregabalin may lead users to underestimate its addictive nature over time, particularly for those with a history of substance abuse.

In other words, even the legitimate use of pregabalin requires careful medical supervision and is only available through prescription due to its dangerous side effects when taken outside of prescribed guidelines. Side effects include dizziness, shaking, forgetfulness, speech difficulties, blurred vision, shortness of breath and chest pain.

For instance, in the case of Alex Cottam, a 27-year-old software engineer battling anxiety and depression, the prescription of pregabalin initially helped him to feel normal and thrive at work. However, Michelle, Alex's mom, shared how her son became dependent on the drug and obsessed with trying to recreate its effects with other prescription drugs. Alex felt better at first, but two years after taking his first pregabalin, he died of an unintentional overdose.

 Visit for more stories about drug overdose deaths in the United States.

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