Common Nerve Pain Drugs Linked To Suicide, Other Serious Risks

By Kelly Burch 06/20/19

A new study found that Lyrica and similar nerve pain meds were associated with increased suicide risk as well as unintentional overdose and traffic accidents. 

person taking common nerve pain drugs

The popular prescription drug Lyrica and similar drugs that are used to treat muscle and nerve pain have been linked with suicidality, accidental overdose and increased risk of serious accidents, according to a new study. 

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that the class of drugs called gabapentinoids were associated with these risks. This class of drugs includes gabapentin, an older drug, and pregabalin, a newer drug that is marketed under the brand name Lyrica.

The study examined records for 191,973 people in Sweden who were taking gabapentinoids between 2006 and 2013. Researchers found alarming trends among the group: 5.2% died by suicide or were treated for suicidal behavior, 8.9% had an accidental overdose, 6.3% had a traffic accident or offense, 4.1% were arrested for a violent crime, and 36.7% presented with head or body injuries. 

These events were much more common for people taking these drugs compared with the general population. 

“Compared to when the same people weren’t taking a gabapentinoid drug, their risk while taking pregabalin or gabapentin was 26% higher for suicidal behavior or suicide, 24% higher for accidental overdose, 22% higher for head or body injuries, and 13% higher for car crashes and traffic offenses,” Reuters reported

Dr. Derek K. Tracy, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, told the news agency that the study results were significant, since many doctors believe that this class of drugs did not have many side effects. 

“As we accumulated more information over time, it has become clear that this is not the case, and most recently there has been a countering drive to try reduce their usage as their harm profile came more to the fore,” he said. 

Although researchers found that overall, gabapentinoids were associated with increased risk, they noted that pregabalin increased risk greatly, while gabapentin did not affect risk. 

Tracy went on, “This very large trial provides important information that pregabalin—but not gabapentin—increased the risk of a range of adverse outcomes, including suicide thinking and completed suicide, head injuries, and road traffic accidents. The risk was ‘dose-related’ which is to say the more one takes, the more likely such outcomes were, and young people aged 15 to 24 seem particularly susceptible.”

Tracy added that it is “becoming clearer with time” that people are becoming dependent on gabapentinoids, although he said more research is needed to understand the risk of addiction and dependency. 

Pfizer, which manufactures Lyrica, said in a statement that the drug “is an important and effective treatment option for many people.”

Study author Dr. Seena Fazel agreed, but said that the study indicates the medical community needs to be aware of the risks of gabapentinoids.

“We need to be more careful about how these medications are prescribed and I think at the very least we should review guidelines about their use just to make sure these guidelines are up to date with the latest evidence,” he said. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.