A cheap painkiller prescribed to millions of Australians every year is “like Santa Claus in a pill,” according to Sydney psychiatrist Dr Tanveer Ahmed.
He said the drug Lyrica has “become all things to all people,” leaving an increasing number of patients addicted.
“It is being dished out like lollies,” Dr Ahmed told A Current Affair. He says it is much easier for GPs to prescribe Lyrica than other painkillers like codeine, which are heavily regulated to prevent addiction.
“There really is very little restriction, you can go and get a repeat at a pharmacy without question, you can go to doctors and there is very little monitoring,” he said.
Finance broker Christalla Andreadis started taking Lyrica after suffering severe spinal injuries in a car accident in 2017, and now she’s struggling to stop.
“Now everyone is going to know my dirty little secret,” she said.
“I can’t go on like this, you suffer in silence and when you’re thinking, ‘I can’t do this anymore’, I don’t want to grow old like this.”
The 52-year-old was embarrassed to admit she was outsmarted by a simple painkiller.
“The drug gets its claws into your soul. It has taken every fibre of my being, is what it has taken me to try and come off it,” Ms Andreadis said.
In the past two years, she has managed to reduce her dosage but can’t quit cold turkey.
Gayle Wilson’s daughter Anita died after taking a deadly combination of Lyrica and opioids.
“I feel as though I failed her. I couldn’t find anything else to do, to keep her alive,” Gayle said.
Anita’s death at only 33 followed years of addiction to pain medication, which started after she had her wisdom teeth removed in 2017.
Lyrica, as known as pregabalin, was originally prescribed to treat epilepsy and nerve pain. Manufactured by Pfizer, it was added to the Australian Pharmaceutical benefits scheme in 2013. The company launched a marketing blitz, investing $3.8 million into almost 500 education events teaching Aussie GPs about the drug.
Pregabalin scripts skyrocketed from 36,000 a year in 2012 to more than 40 million by 2018.
In America Pfizer have been prosecuted over the marketing of Lyrica.
“They agreed to pay $2.3 billion for a healthcare fraud settlement, they were illegally marketing four different drugs and Lyrica fell under that umbrella,” Amy Kawaa explained.
Amy started a support group for patients who beat addiction to Lyrica.
When A Current Affair approached Pfizer, we initially received a one sentence response, saying Pfizer no longer owns Lyrica.
The programs questions were then forwarded on to a company called Viatris, which was created late last year when a division of Pfizer merged with another pharmaceutical firm.
Pharmacist Said Khodary said the number of Lyrica scripts he has filled has more than doubled in the past three years. “Anyone on a healthcare card, pension card, can pick it up for $6,” Mr Khodary said.
He’s well-seasoned at spotting doctor shoppers.
“They try to come up with lots of excuses, sometimes they’re sweating, they’re nervous, they’re a bit anxious sometimes,” he said.
Victoria is the only state which has mandatory monitoring for Lyrica prescriptions.
“There is no way for us to really monitor if they’re getting prescriptions elsewhere. It would really help a lot,” Mr Khodary explained.
This article first appeared on Over60.