Lyrica, also known by its generic name Pregabalin, is an anticonvulsant used to treat seizures and provide pain relief for people with fibromyalgia, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, or herpes zoster. Herpes zoster is a reactivation of the chickenpox virus, which causes a painful rash with blisters. Lyrica comes as a capsule and liquid in a variety of strengths. An extended release version of the drug, called Lyrica CR, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2017.
Lyrica works by binding to the alpha2-delta site in the central nervous system, calming overactive nerves. Impulses in the brain are slowed down and the drug stops seizures right as they are beginning. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, Lyrica is a good add-on to other seizure medications and those who took Lyrica with another prescribed seizure medication experienced a great reduction in their seizures. While Lyrica can be beneficial to those who need it, others are at risk for developing a Lyrica addiction.
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Lyrica has side effects which may be made worse by health problems, such as having a mood disorder, heart problems, kidney disease, lung disease, or a previous or current drug or alcohol addiction. Lyrica can cause a severe allergic reaction in some that appears in the form of hives or blisters on this skin, swelling in the throat, tongue, lips, or face, and difficulty breathing. Some common side effects include:
- Blurred vision
- Weight gain
- Trouble concentrating
Some users experience depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and suicidal thoughts. These are more likely to occur if the user has a history of depression. In a study of patients receiving either Lyrica or a placebo, patients had twice the risk of suicidal thinking compared to the placebo group. Four of the patients in the Lyrica group committed suicide, while zero of the placebo group committed suicide.
It was almost like an instinct: ‘There’s a bus, jump in front of it’. It was scary but also I could tell it wasn’t coming from me, so I was able to protect myself. But it was terrifying to think I wasn’t in control of my thoughts or behavior.
Anyone taking Lyrica who starts experiencing suicidal thoughts should seek professional help immediately. However, it is not advised to abruptly stop taking Lyrica unless the user is experiencing an allergic reaction. If someone stops taking the medication, they may experience headaches, trouble sleeping, sweating, anxiety, diarrhea, and upset stomach or nausea.
Lyrica Abuse and Effects
When someone abuses Lyrica, they may feel euphoria, relaxation, and calmness. Some describe the feeling of a Lyrica high as feeling drunk, earning it the nickname “Budweiser.” Some may drink alcohol while on Lyrica, which increases the side effects of dizziness, difficulty concentrating, and drowsiness. Abusers of Lyrica will swallow a larger amount of the drug than their prescription allows, or without a prescription. Users may also cut the tablet and snort the contents. When combined with other drugs, like opiates, the euphoric effects are increased, but so are the feelings of sleepiness and dizziness. Intentionally mixing Lyrica with other drugs, like heroin, can lead to an overdose.
Lyrica may have drug interactions with diabetes drugs and lead to swelling or weight gain. When mixed with an angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor, users may experience swelling and hives. In America, Lyrica is considered a relatively safe drug with a low potential for abuse. However, other countries are realizing the dangers of Lyrica addition and abuse.
Lyrica Addiction and Overdose in the United Kingdom
Lyrica is listed as a Schedule V drug by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) which means it has a low potential for abuse. However, people living in the United Kingdom (UK) are finding Lyrica to have a detrimental effect in their society. There has been an increase of overdoses in England and Wales involving Lyrica. The number of prescriptions has increased dramatically, going from 1 million in 2004, to 10.5 million in 2015. In 2009, there was fewer than 1 death from drugs like Lyrica per year. In 2015, there averaged about 137 deaths per year.
Heroin users in the UK said that Lyrica is easy to find and obtain and increases the effects of heroin, which is why they abuse it. They mentioned that there is concern with experiencing black outs and overdose when combining the drugs. The UK classifies its drugs by dividing them into Class A, B, or C. Class A contains drugs like cocaine and heroin, which is similar to America’s Schedule I, which means the drugs have no medical use and a high potential for abuse. Class C is similar to Schedule V, but until 2019, Lyrica was not even listed as a Class C drug. It took 33 deaths in Northern Ireland to make Lyrica a Class C drug.
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Many users compare Lyrica’s effects to those of Valium, which produces a euphoric and calming effect. Northern Ireland has the highest prescription rate for Lyrica in the UK, and its citizens are paying the price with a developing black market for Lyrica. Joe Brogan, the Health & Social Care Board head of pharmacy and management in Belfast said, “In many cases of pregabalin [Lyrica] misuse, it has not been prescribed – it has been sourced through family or friends or bought on the street or via the internet.” People with co-occurring disorders and undiagnosed mental health problems take Lyrica to self-medicate, stating that it gives them relief. Abusing this drug is leading to dangerous addictions, with one user interviewed by the British online publisher The Independent explaining it as: “I’ve taken valium in the past – I’d use it while I was studying as I’d get nervous before presentations, but there’s nothing bad about it compared to [Lyrica]. This is more dangerous. I just can’t get off it.”
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Even taking Lyrica exactly as directed can lead to a tolerance and dependence. The drug’s strong withdrawal symptoms act as motivation for users to keep taking the drug. For seizure patients, seizures can worsen when the drug is stopped abruptly. Studies have demonstrated that prescribing Lyrica to people with a history of substance misuse puts them at a considerable risk for developing a Lyrica addiction. Studies have also found that the drug produces similar responses as Valium. Before starting a prescription of Lyrica, it is important to be mindful of the risks of developing a Lyrica addition.
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A Lyrica use disorder carries significant risks and ignoring those risks could put you in danger. Reach out to a treatment provider for help today.