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Our Pregablin nightmare: Users of anti-anxiety drug reveal how it ‘destroyed’ their lives and side effects left them ‘losing their minds’ – as prescription medicine is linked to 3,400 deaths in five years


Users of an anti-anxiety drug linked to thousands of deaths have told MailOnline how their lives were ‘destroyed’ by the drug.

Pregabalin, which is used by doctors to treat anxiety, epilepsy and nerve pain, has been described by one doctor as like ‘selling a car without brakes’.

Use of the drug can lead to dependency, with some people becoming addicted to the ‘euphoria’ that taking it can cause, while others become reliant on the relaxing feelings it can induce.

Those who have become addicted to it have compared it to trying to wean themselves off morphine and oxycodone, two drugs notorious for the ill effects they have on people who try to quit them.

Pregabalin users have told MailOnline that the drug has led to erratic behaviour, blurred vision, mood swings and suicidal thoughts, with many now desperate to lower their dosage or come off the medication that has ‘robbed them of their lives’ altogether.

Mother-of-two Penny Carroll told MailOnline, ‘I felt like I was losing my mind’, after taking the drug and is terrified of further ramifications after hearing nightmarish stories of users losing their teeth.

She is ‘angry’ that she wasn’t warned about the side effects – and ‘no one seemed to know’ how she should have weaned herself off the drug which ‘trebled’ her anxiety. 

It has been linked to nearly 3,400 deaths in Britain in the last five years alone, with the drug involved in 779 fatalities in 2022 – up from just nine a decade earlier in 2012.

Have you been affected by pregabalin? Email emily.davies@mailonline.co.uk 

Penny Carroll, 53, was put on the drug six months ago due to having spinal spondylosis

Penny Carroll, 53, was put on the drug six months ago due to having spinal spondylosis

Other victims include Chloe Caton (pictured), 21, who died after accidentally overdosing on sleeping medication on June 1 last year

Other victims include Chloe Caton (pictured), 21, who died after accidentally overdosing on sleeping medication on June 1 last year

Pregabalin has been linked to thousands of deaths in the last five years

Pregabalin has been linked to thousands of deaths in the last five years

Recent figures show it has the fastest rising death toll of any drug in the UK, and it is only behind opiates (such as heroin and morphine), cocaine and benzodiazepines (such as Valium and Xanax) in the number of fatalities it is linked to.

Pregabalin users have told MailOnline about the shocking impacts the drug has had on their lives. 

Penny Carroll, 53, was put on the drug six months ago due to having spinal spondylosis.

The married mother-of-two from Hertfordshire, who works providing surgical compliance equipment to the NHS, called it an ‘horrendous experience’.

She told MailOnline that she was not informed about the risks or side effects.

She said: ‘My doctor had increased my dose as the pain was creeping back in, so from 100mg I went to 150mg.

‘It worked really well, the pain began to easy off, but my body needed more.

‘The reality of what I was on started when my doctor did not put my repeat prescription through, so I was forced to use the lower dose.

‘Then the withdrawals started and I felt like I was in hell. The anxiety and panic attacks were the worst, sweating, insomnia, skin crawling, I went through absolute hell.

‘It was the weekend so the GP was closed. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I found a Facebook group and the admits told me I was going through withdrawal and I shouldn’t come off it too quickly – which is what no one had told me. 

‘Looking at the posts in that group…I was one of the lucky ones. Some people have been on it for 15 years….people lost their teeth, went into complete psychosis, had suicidal thoughts.

‘I can’t drink alcohol. If I have two drinks, I have massive panic attacks. My anxiety has trebled, and I’m clear of it. I wrote to my GP to say this is the worst thing you could have given me. I only took it for three to four months. Some people have taken it for years.

‘That Facebook group saved my life. I had no idea what was happening, I didn’t know it was withdrawal. I was spiralling, I was panicked – what if I lost my teeth? What if I started to feel suicidal?’

Mrs Carroll said she had to miss work and her husband had to move out of their bedroom due to her panic attacks.

She continued: ‘It was awful. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t function. And because I didn’t sleep, I was snappy with my 16-year-old daughter. It felt like I was losing my mind, like I was going mad. No one understood, they said I had stopped taking it so that couldn’t be the reason.

‘I am angry that I hadn’t been advised about the side effects of the medication. There wasn’t any awareness, no one seemed to be bothered. No one seemed to know – it was frightening. 

‘No one knew how you were supposed to come off it slowly – I came off too quickly. You can be left with lasting damage, maybe that’s why I’m still suffering now. I just wanted to get off it. But now I have anxiety like never before.

‘My sleep has never been the same, I wake up several times a night with anxiety, I’m not the same person I was before this hideous drug.’

Alex Cottam, pictured, died at the age of 27 after being prescribed pregabalin

Alex Cottam, pictured, died at the age of 27 after being prescribed pregabalin

Alex is pictured as a young boy. He was found dead in his Salford flat in 2021 after getting hooked on the drug

 Alex is pictured as a young boy. He was found dead in his Salford flat in 2021 after getting hooked on the drug

His mother Michelle says there need to be greater awareness around the effects of the drug

His mother Michelle says there need to be greater awareness around the effects of the drug

Alex Silva, who was prescribed pregabalin after a slipped disc on his neck, said ‘after two months on it, all I could think about was to kill myself’.

He added: ‘No doctor ever informed about suicidal thoughts. Thank God, I read about it and stopped taking it straight away. Horrible drug but the worst of all, was that no one told me about the suicidal thoughts.’

What is pregabalin?

Pregabalin is a drug that is used to treat epilepsy, anxiety and nerve pain.

It was first licensed in 2004 as a medicine to stop epilepsy seizures, and then for neuropathic or nerve pain – it blocks pain signals in the brain.

Patients on it reported feeling calmer, too, so doctors began offering it for anxiety – one of my many diagnoses.

Initially, it was hoped the drug, and its milder ‘sibling’ gabapentin, could be a less risky alternative to addictive painkillers as well as benzodiazepine medicines – such as diazepam, also known as Valium and alprazolam, or Xanax. But this wasn’t the case.

Doctors have described it as ‘the new Xanax’ and even ‘Valium on steroids’ due to fears about its crushing side effects, including suicidal thoughts and weight gain.

Research suggests pregabalin is associated with an increased risk of suicidal behaviour, road traffic incidents, violent behaviour and accidental overdose

Patients aged 15 to 24 who took pregabalin had a 70 per cent increased risk of suicidal behaviour, a 140 per cent increased risk of accidental overdose, a 113 per cent increased risk of head injuries, a 49 per cent increased risk of a road traffic incident and a 58 per cent increased risk of being arrested for a violent crime, according to a study in the BMJ.

Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company which makes pregabalin and gabapentin, says the research ‘was an observational study and therefore the findings should not imply causality’.

The drug is only available in the UK by prescription and can take a couple of weeks to start working.

Commons side effects of taking pregabalin include headaches, diarrhoea, mood changes, blurred visions and memory problems.

Some people can become addicted to the drug, meaning they will suffer withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking it.

Another user called Tracy said that her eyesight is now always very blurry and she would like to be off the drug altogether but ‘can’t bear the thought of the withdrawal symptoms again’.

A third, who was prescribed pregabalin for lower back pain, said: ‘I went completely crazy for 2 months and had to wean myself off due to erratic behaviour, blurred vision, mood swings and suicidal thoughts.’

They added: ‘The doctors don’t tell you this when prescribing and when you mention concerns that’s when it seems you are given the information. I was lucky but only because my partner questioned the tablets when I was losing the plot.

‘The despair you feel is overwhelming and you genuinely believe your thoughts are yours and not related to anything a doctor would give you.’

And another, who was prescribed pregabalin four years ago for a back injury, heartbreakingly told MailOnline: ‘This drug ruined and robbed me of my life for three years until I finally realised last year it was killing me.’

Another user who was prescribed the drug for lower back pain while waiting for an MRI scan said she went ‘completely crazy’ for two months because of the drug.

She told MailOnline: ‘ I was prescribed this for lower back pain whilst waiting for an MRI scan.

‘I went completely crazy for two months and had to wean myself off due to erratic behaviour, blurred vision,mood swings and suicidal thoughts. 

‘I was then prescribed gabapentin which I have just weaned myself off, again because of the side effects, which are very similar to pregabalin.

‘The doctors don’t tell you this when prescribing and when you mention concerns that’s when it seems you are given the information.

‘I was lucky but only because my partner questioned the tablets when I was losing the plot.

‘The despair you feel is overwhelming and you genuinely believe your thoughts are yours and not related to anything a doctor would give you.’

One user told MailOnline his ‘life has been destroyed by pregabalin’. Since he was prescribed the drug, he’s been in a ‘continued battle’ for seven and a half years to get help for the side effects he now suffers from.

He said: ‘Me and my family are just left abandoned, with no end to this continued suffering.

‘I have lost my business, my career, my ability to support my family. I have lost my ability to follow any of my hobbies and interest, both physically and financially.’

Another man was prescribed pregabalin after being diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia in 2018. The condition causes severe facial pain likened to having an electric shock and is often nicknamed the ‘suicide disease’ as the unpredictable bouts of pain make everyday living unbearable.

He told MailOnline that his GP prescribed Pregabalin along with Morphine and Zomorph for pain.

He said: ‘I was put forward for surgery but unfortunately was I was accepted, Covid hit the country and therefore it was cancelled.

‘We are now in 2024 and due to the long waiting lists and being a forgotten patient I am still awaiting my operation, and therefore still taking these drugs.

‘The effects of this long term use have affected my life and health in ways I could never have imagined.’

Among those who have passed away after being prescribed pregabalin is Alex Cottam, a software engineer who suffered a fatal overdose after becoming hooked to the drug.

His mother Michelle told The Sunday Times the drug, which was prescribed to 8.6million people in England in 2022, ‘completely changed’ her son and led to him becoming ‘obsessed’ with recreating its effects.

Alex, who was just 27 when he died, had developed anxiety and depression after the death of his father when he was 13 years old.

He was prescribed pregabalin when he was 25 as he struggled to deal with crippling anxiety, and Michelle says it initially helped him get his life back on track – he would become a software engineer and his confidence improved.

However, his tolerance for the drug increased, meaning his dose had to as well to keep feeling the effects. 

Jasmin Duddy, 21, was found dead at a house in Galliagh in Derry on February 1 last year after taking pregabalin along with other substances

Jasmin Duddy, 21, was found dead at a house in Galliagh in Derry on February 1 last year after taking pregabalin along with other substances

When he was told by a GP he would have to stop taking it, Alex began to buy the drug, and others such as painkiller tramadol, online without a prescription.

He was found dead in his Salford flat in 2021, with an inquest determining he died of an ‘unintentional overdose’ of pregabalin and three other drugs. 

Michelle told The Sunday Times: ‘He had overcome every obstacle that had got in his way, but the pregabalin took such a strong grip on him that he just couldn’t see a way out.

‘It’s such a waste. How many other lives will be affected if they carry on not advising patients that they might become addicted?’

One woman told the publication that trying to quit the drug makes you ‘feel like you’re dying’. 

Debbi Lou had been prescribed the drug after damaging her spine in a car crash, but realised she had to stop taking it when the memory loss associated without it caused to her forget to pick up her six-year-old daughter from school.

But she said the list of side effects when she tried to stop – including shaking, insomnia, lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhoea and anxiety – made it a tortuous experience.

She said: ‘It’s just like oxycodone and opiates, people have underestimated the damage that can be caused. I trusted my doctor. That trust has been broken.’

Other victims who have died after using pregabalin include Chloe Caton, 21, who died after accidentally overdosing on sleeping medication on June 1 last year. 

Alex Silva (pictured), who was prescribed pregabalin after a slipped disc on his neck, told MailOnline 'after two months on it, all I could think about was to kill myself'

Alex Silva (pictured), who was prescribed pregabalin after a slipped disc on his neck, told MailOnline ‘after two months on it, all I could think about was to kill myself’

The dental receptionist had been staying with her mother Ami and her mother’s two grandchildren in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, instead of her usual home in nearby Kidsgrove.

An inquest in November at Stoke Town Hall heard that Ms Caton had struggled with her mental health towards the end of her life.

A post-mortem toxicology found she had four drugs in her system – pregabalin, tapentadol, diazepam and zopiclone – only the latter two of which had been prescribed. 

Meanwhile Jasmin Duddy, 21, was found dead at a house in Galliagh in Derry on February 1 last year year after taking pregabalin.

The mother-of-one, from Creggan, Derry, had been trying to get help for her drug addiction but died after taking a deadly combination of pregabalin and another anti-anxiety medication. 

In the wake of her death, her mother Pauline said that more needs to be done to clamp down on prescription drugs being sold on the streets as she fears people ‘can get drugs quicker than you can get chocolate out of the shop’. 

Pauline said Jasmin had been trying to overcome her addiction and was ‘doing really well’ after receiving treatment at hospital.

But she received a phone call from her daughter on the day of her death and could tell that she was intoxicated. She later texted her to sober up to which Jasmin replied back saying ‘Mum, I’m trying’.

Pauline previously told BBC News NI: ‘So at 4 o’clock in the morning I was asleep and then there was police at the door and they said they wanted to come in to discuss a sensitive matter and they told me that my daughter was found deceased.

‘I don’t understand why that day – that’s the question that keeps going round my mind – why that day did she decide to put those tablets in her mouth.

‘She was off all the tablets, she was doing really well, and I don’t know what changed on the 1st February to make her put tablets into her mouth. That will never be answered.

‘It has left the whole family devastated and there’s a lot more families going through the exact same at the minute – we are the families left behind.’

Karen Henderson, 54, also died from a drug overdose after she was ‘distressed’ that her GP was reducing her medication. 

She was found unresponsive by her partner in Barrow on February 1 last year. Coroners later ruled that she died from pneumonia and multi-drug toxicity from tramadol and pregabalin.

Meanwhile one professional rugby player also died of an accidental drug overdose after taking too much medication, which included pregabalin, for his sporting injuries. Jordan Cox, 27, took pain relief medication for chronic back pain but was found dead by his grandmother in the early hours of April 30 2020.

Jordan Cox (pictured), 27, took pain relief medication for chronic back pain and was found dead by his grandmother in the early hours of April 30 2020.  The court heard at the time that there were 'toxic levels' of the drugs pregabalin, diazepam and oxycodone that, combined, caused his heart to stop

Jordan Cox (pictured), 27, took pain relief medication for chronic back pain and was found dead by his grandmother in the early hours of April 30 2020.  The court heard at the time that there were ‘toxic levels’ of the drugs pregabalin, diazepam and oxycodone that, combined, caused his heart to stop

His reliance on the medication became too much and Jordan overdosed on the evening of April 29. The court heard at the time that there were ‘toxic levels’ of the drugs pregabalin, diazepam and oxycodone that, combined, caused his heart to stop.

Some doctors have raised concerns about how easy it is to become addicted to pregabalin, especially when patients aren’t warned about its effects properly.

Dr Mark Horowitz, who is a clinical research fellow at the NHS, compared prescribing the drug to ‘selling cars without breaks’. 

He told The Sunday Times: ‘How can there be rising deaths from pregabalin and a huge explosion of prescriptions, with all these troubles, and yet doctors are using this drug to treat anxiety? 

‘It boggles the mind when a drug is showing all these dangers to then use it in a wider variety of people.’

Professor Ian Hamilton, who is an honorary fellow in addiction at the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York, told MailOnline last year that pregabalin is an effective treatment for people suffering with chronic pain.

He said that for the hundreds of thousands of people that live with chronic pain it has been ‘literally a life saver’ in allowing them to get on with day to day activities.

However, he warned that its properties mean it can be easy for some people to become addicted to it.

Professor Hamilton said: ‘Pregabalin is something that has been around for decades but prescriptions have been kicked up since the early 2000s. That is when health professionals became concerned about it.

‘It has paradoxical effects. It causes a high but at the same time it relaxes you. That is what recreational users are seeking, that kind of mild euphoria.

‘Its side effects are pretty varied. They can include dizziness and forgetfulness, respiratory deprivation, difficulty breathing.’

‘What happens for many people is that they get reduced prescriptions but then source more of the drug themselves.’

Professor Hamilton said that there was a noticeable rise in the use of opioids in 2021, during the UK’s Covid lockdown.

He said that the reason behind this was partly due to the fact that more people were spending time indoors and therefore would use opioids to help themselves relax in what was a stressful time for many.

He added that there was also an increase in the use of more widely available opioids such as pregabalin which replaced heroin which at the time was scarce.

Professor Hamilton said that people will look to buy drugs online, which then becomes a ‘complete lottery’ as there is no guarantee of what is in the drug or what the dose is.

He said: ‘When you buy drugs online it is a complete lottery. You never know what it is you are taking and you don’t know if the dose is what you are being told it is.

‘It could be four or five times more stronger than you think. People quite rapidly find out that they have taken too much before it’s too late.’

Professor Hamilton explained that clamping down on the prescription of pregabalin will only mean that another opioid will soon take its place.

‘There is a lot of resistance and reluctance to stop doctors prescribing it because what is the alternative.

‘If we see a clamp down on pregabalin then there will be another drug that follows.

‘Stopping the opioid crisis is an issue for policy makers. Individual GPs don’t have a great deal of control.

‘We need the government and the department of health to be more intelligent about solving this problem.

He added that reviewing patients using pregabalin more regularly could also help ensure that they are using it too much.

If it becomes apparent that a patient may need to reduce their prescription then they can discuss with their GP how things might change.

Have you been affected by pregabalin? Email emily.davies@mailonline.co.uk 

If you or someone you know if concerned about dependence or addiction to prescription drugs, contact your GP. If you’re having trouble finding the right sort of help, call the Frank drugs helpline on 0300 123 6600.

For confidential support, call Samaritans on 116 123, visit samaritans.org or visit https://www.thecalmzone.net/get-support



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