Pregabalin and gabapentin are to be reclassified as class C drugs from April 2019 due to concerns over misuse, illicit trade and addiction, the Home Office has announced.

The Government says there has been an increase in fatalities linked to the drugs, which are used to treat nerve pain, epilepsy and anxiety.

The decision means that it will be illegal to possess the drugs without a prescription and to supply or sell them to others. It follows a recommendation from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), as well as a public consultation that received responses from pharmacies, doctors, pharmaceutical companies and patients.

While doctors will still be able to prescribe the drugs, there will be stricter controls in place to prevent stockpiling and illegal diversion. Prescriptions will now have to be physically signed by a doctor, rather than pharmacists accepting electronic copies. Pharmacists will also be required to dispense the drugs within 28 days of the prescription being written.

The reclassification will come into force in April next year to ensure healthcare professionals have sufficient lead-time, the Government said.

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.”

Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Ash Soni advised: “It is likely there will be some reduction in the prescribing of these drugs and pharmacies will need support in managing their stock holding to ensure they meet patient demand, but not end up with significant stocks that go out of date.

“The fact that this is being notified in advance will help with this, but it will be important for all health professionals to be aware of the change and to start to support patients in understanding the changes.”

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