Pregabalin and gabapentin now class C substances

Gabapentin and pregabalin have been reclassified by the Home Office as class C controlled substances.

The widely prescribed drugs, licensed to treat epilepsy, anxiety, peripheral and neuropathic pain (pain caused by damage or injury to the nerves) are now subject to increased controls in the UK.

The medications are also known to produce feelings of euphoria, calmness and relaxation which have contributed to their wide use.

Both substances have serious side effects, and risks are increased when using with other substances, especially illicit street drugs.

Some people have been combining them with other drugs to amplify the desired effects. For example, gabapentin and pregabalin with heroin can increase their euphoric effects.

This also increases the risk of harm, as the combination  can create breathing difficulties and reverse the tolerance that the body may have built up against heroin’s effects on breathing. This increases the risk of respiratory failure, which underpins many heroin overdose deaths.

Under the new classification, prescribers can no longer issue electronic prescriptions – they will have to be handwritten. It is also now illegal to possess these drugs without a prescription, and it is illegal to supply or sell the drugs to others.

Professor Ian Hamilton and Professor Harry Sumnall have written an article on the background and implications of the legislation change.