Lyrica “Gets Its Claws Into Your Soul”

Lyrica, a drug manufactured by Pfizer, was initially developed to treat epilepsy. Since that time, it’s been prescribed off-label to treat pain and anxiety — often with disastrous results.

High-profile cases of the drug’s devastating effects have emerged in Australia, where use of the drug has skyrocketed of late; the number of Lyrica prescriptions filled in the country went from 36,000 in 2012 to 4,000,000 in 2018, an increase of over 10,000%.

A correspondingly high human toll is being paid as the drug predominates; Christalla Andreadis, a 52-year-old prescribed Lyrica after a car accident, declared the drug “gets its claws into your soul” while describing the devastating and addictive nature of Lyrica (the generic name for which is Pregabalin).

In addition to suicidal thoughts, use of Lyrica has been associated with respiratory depression; slowed breathing can be dangerous on its own, and the chance of fatality only increases when the user is elderly, has a pre-existing lung condition, or uses Opioids in combination with Lyrica.

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Other side effects have been reported; one mother described her daughter’s descent into Lyrica addiction, characterizing her as a once effervescent young woman who began to lose both her spark and control of her behavior — often falling asleep while standing up and acting in other erratic ways — before tragically dying of an overdose in 2020.

And Lyrica isn’t just creating problems in Australia. Gabapentinoids (a class of drugs of which Lyrica is a member) are incredibly common in the US; Lyrica itself cost Medicare $2.1 billion in 2016, as more than 850,000 Medicare beneficiaries were prescribed the drug in that year alone.

When asked by reporters about the dangers of Lyrica, manufacturer Pfizer punted; the pharmaceutical giant denied ownership of the drug — despite their branding being plainly visible on Lyrica’s packaging — and passed the buck to Viatris, a company Pfizer created in 2020.

There’s now a growing curiosity about what exactly Pfizer knew about the destructive and addictive potential of Lyrica while they were spending millions to market the drug to doctors and to an unsuspecting public; perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s not the first time Pfizer has found themselves in hot water because of Lyrica.

Pfizer’s Lied About Lyrica Before

The US Department of Justice fined Pfizer $2.3 billion for breaking the law in how it promoted 4 of its drugs, including Lyrica, in 2009. At the time, the settlement was the largest health care fraud payout in history. To date, it’s the second largest.

Pfizer faced allegations of paying kickbacks to doctors for prescribing their drugs, making false claims about Pfizer drugs, and promoting off-label use of drugs like Lyrica; it’s illegal for drug companies like Pfizer to promote use of their drugs for reasons not approved by the FDA.

A similarly aggressive and unscrupulous marketing strategy was used in Australia; Pfizer pumped millions into “educational” events for doctors (where drug companies often get to bend the laws around courting medical professionals to their breaking point, shamelessly “wining and dining” care providers in an attempt to get their proprietary medications into as many prescription pads as possible).

Some elected officials have tried to force Pfizer to answer for their behavior when it comes to Lyrica; Senator Ron Wyden, the current chair and then-ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, wrote then-Pfizer CEO Ian Read in 2018 to ask Read why Pfizer had hiked the price of Lyrica multiple times, sometimes by as much as 145%, to the detriment of taxpayers who are prescribed the medication.

Read, for his part, had previously insisted that companies like Pfizer don’t make too much money. Pfizer had well over $41 billion in revenue last year and is expecting $26 billion just from COVID-19 vaccine sales alone in 2021.

They Don’t Take It Like Medicine

If the above reports aren’t bad enough, Buzzfeed News reported in 2017 that Lyrica was “the drug of choice to treat rampant depression, anxiety, and PTSD” in a Greek refugee camp. That Lyrica was (and possibly still is) distributed so widely to refugees may help explain the enormously high rate of suicidal ideation among the demographic; The Washington Post reported the results of a survey that found 41% of a certain subset of refugees have contemplated suicide, and suicidal thoughts are a possible side effect of Lyrica. Other factors most certainly contribute to this troubling statistic — it’s a near certainty that Lyrica use isn’t helping, however.

One observer of Lyrica use within the refugee camp told a reporter that “Life here is hard. Some people take the pill,” going on to say that refugees “do not take [Lyrica] as medicine … they take it like drugs.”

Many people across the world, both Americans and Australians, are doing the same. Only time will tell if public outcry over the actions of companies like Pfizer and the harmful overprescription of drugs like Lyrica will be enough to motivate the elected officials who have failed to rein in drug companies, or the drug companies themselves, who often flood Congress and candidates with donations, to change their ways.

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William Henken

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  • Will Henken earned a B.A. in Advertising and Public Relations from the University of Central Florida. He has had his work published in the Orlando Sentinel, and has previous experience crafting copy for political action committees and advocacy groups dedicated to social justice. Addiction and mental health are personal subjects for him, and his greatest hope is that he can give a helping hand to those seeking healthy and lasting recovery.

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