Pregabalin and Gabapentin – Latest Drugs to be Re-classified
Pregabalin and Gabapentin – Latest Drugs to be Controlled
From April 1st 2019, both pregabalin and gabapentin are set to have stricter regulations and become a category 3 controlled drug.
Whilst they'll still be available on prescription to those that need them, moving them to a higher controlled category means that there will be tighter regulations around them.
You'll now have to sign the back of your prescription when you go to collect the medications, and they more than likely won't be available on repeat prescription. This classification of controlled drugs are not allowed to be supplied online, so if you normally order pregabalin or gabapentin from the internet through a service such as Doctor4U, you can only do this until the 1st April. From this date, pharmacies will need a physical copy of a prescription, signed by the doctor. It will become illegal to accept electronic prescriptions for the medications in question.
Usually, category 3 controlled drugs have to be locked away in a safe, but pregabalin and gabapentin have been granted an exception to this rule.
What do pregabalin and gabapentin do?
Pregabalin and gabapentin are both anti-epileptic drugs that are also used to treat neuropathic pain.
Thousands of people across the UK have been prescribed these drugs to take every day, and whilst they do carry a fair amount of side effects like many medicines, the people using them usually find that the benefits outweigh the risks.
In epilepsy, the medicines work by regulating brain activity, as the organ tends to work much harder and faster during a seizure. Pregabalin and gabapentin help to prevent this happening.
For nerve pain, gabapentin and pregabalin interfere with pain signals in the central nervous system, reducing the amount of pain and discomfort a patient feels.
What are controlled drugs?
Controlled drugs are a broad spectrum, but all of the drugs in this category fall under the misuse of drugs act 2001.
Many prescription medications are already controlled, in fact, gabapentin and pregabalin have been for several years, but depending on the classification of the medicine, the restrictions can range from being fairly relaxed to bring incredibly strict.
Many people will know of the phrases “class A” and “Class B” and so on but may be shocked to hear that being in possession of a controlled drug isn’t always illegal. For example, if you’re found to be in possession of cocaine that isn’t prescribed and is only being taken recreationally, you’ll probably be landed with either a hefty fine or a stay in prison. However, if from the 1st April, you’re found to be in possession of gabapentin or pregabalin, as long as you have a valid prescription and reason to be taking them, you aren’t committing a crime, and you won’t need to worry.
The two medications will be reclassified as class C drugs, alongside benzodiazepines (diazepam/Valium), and anabolic steroids. If you’ve been taking pregabalin or gabapentin on prescription for a while and haven’t had any issues, you shouldn’t need to worry, as you’ll still be able to access the medication safely and legally. The reclassification is only in place to stop people abusing the drugs when they don’t need to take them. However, it does mean that the way you request your medicine will be changing, as controlled drugs currently can’t be requested electronically.
What does this mean for me?
Unfortunately, if you currently buy pregabalin or gabapentin online, you’ll no longer be able to do so after the 1st April. This is because all prescriptions for category 3 controlled drugs must be physically signed by a doctor. Electronic prescriptions currently aren’t available for any medications that fall under the misuse of drugs act 2001. However, the NHS are piloting a scheme under the NHS Digital program, but it isn’t expected to be rolled out to all practices until 2020.
The Pharmaceutical Journal states:
Prescriptions of pregabalin and gabapentin will also be limited to 30 days’ treatment, and repeat prescriptions will not be issued. Any prescription received must be dispensed within 28 days.
This may make things more difficult for you if either of the medications is currently on your repeat prescription list, but please talk to your GP if you’re concerned about accessing gabapentin or pregabalin after the changes have been made in April.
Why are they being reclassified?
Gabapentinoid abuse has been on the rise for several years, contributing to an increasing number of deaths caused by drug abuse. The government has made the decision to reclassify gabapentin and pregabalin in order to safeguard patients who may be at risk of drug abuse and to put tighter controls in place to make sure the medications are only going to those who are genuinely in need.
The general advice is not to worry. As mentioned before, if you’ve been taking the medications for a while and your GP sees no reason to withdraw the treatments, you shouldn’t have any issues accessing the medicines unless you normally buy them online.
Can I still buy pregabalin or gabapentin online?
Until April 1st you’ll still be able to buy the medicines online and have them dispensed as you normally do. However, after the changes are made, it will be illegal to supply the medications for purchase online due to the tight regulations around controlled drugs.
Are there any alternative treatments that aren’t on the controlled drugs list?
If you’re taking gabapentin or pregabalin for nerve pain, there’s only really one other option that doctors prescribe for neuropathy; Amitriptyline.
Amitriptyline is classed as an antidepressant but has also been proven to help with symptoms of neuropathy. This medicine is currently not on the controlled drugs list, and will still be available online and on repeat prescription without you having to physically visit a pharmacy to collect them.
If you think this may be an option for you, please talk to your GP who’ll be able to advise whether amitriptyline is a suitable medicine for you.
Can I get the medicines from a private doctor?
In this case, the same rules apply to private doctors and those working for the NHS. The new regulations aren’t specific to the public sector, as all doctors will have to abide by the new classification as it is a government decision made in the best interests of the public.