The UK government announced last week that the medicines pregabalin and gabapentin will be reclassified as class C under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The change will take place in April 2019.
Class C is the third in the government’s three-tier system for categorising controlled substances. Drugs in class C are associated with the least amount of harm compared with those in classes A or B.
Pregabalin and gabapentin are currently used to treat conditions like epilepsy, nerve pain and anxiety.
The Home Office has said that these medicines will still be available for legitimate use on prescription by a doctor after the change in law.
It said that the change means that it will be illegal to possess these medicines without a prescription. It will also be illegal to supply or sell them. This is an effort towards stronger controls, accountability and a reduction in the potential for misuse of these medicines.
The government’s decision to reclassify these medicines follows experts highlighting a rising number of deaths linked to their misuse. However, according to researchers from the University of Bristol, more than 4 in 5 deaths (80%) involved the misuse of these medicines alongside street drugs, such as heroin.
The concerns with pregabalin and gabapentin relate to misuse of these medicines. This may include taking these if you don’t have a prescription or taking them in a way that is not prescribed by your doctor. The concerns do not relate to taking the medicines for epilepsy as prescribed by your epilepsy specialist.
In 2016, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) raised concerns over the possibility of addiction and misuse of these medicines. It called for them to be reclassified as class C. The government consulted pharmacists, pharmaceutical companies, doctors and patients, who backed tighter controls.
Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability Victoria Atkins said: “Any death related to the misuse of drugs is a tragedy. We accepted expert advice and will now change the law to help prevent misuse of pregabalin and gabapentin and addiction to them.
“While drug misuse is lower now than it was 10 years ago, we remain committed to reducing it and the harm it causes.”
The change means that doctors will now have to physically sign prescriptions rather than use electronic copies. The medicines will have to be dispensed within 28 days of the prescription being written.
This is not the first medicine used for epilepsy to be classified as a class C drug. Midazolam and diazepam, used as emergency medicine for prolonged seizures, have been listed as class C for around 30 years.
If you are concerned about your medicines, you can speak to your GP or epilepsy specialist. You can also call the Epilepsy Action Helpline on 0808 800 5050.