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BBC analysis has revealed that prescription rates for pregabalin, a valium-like drug linked to 111 deaths in a year, varies widely across England.
Prompting calls for research into why the disparities exist, the figures show that monthly spending on prescriptions containing pregabalin was 88 per cent higher in the North East and 83 per cent higher in the North West than in London.
Financially, GPs and other prescribers in the North East spent £569.94 per month for every 1,000 of their patients on pregabalin between August 2016 and July 2017. Over the same period, doctors in London spent just £302.82 per 1,000 patients per month.
The drug is prescribed to treat nerve pain, anxiety and epilepsy, with the Home Office intending to make the drug a Class C controlled substance after reports of it being sold illegally to addicts and leading to overdoses when taken with other drugs, such as heroin.
Roz Gittins, chief pharmacist of the charity Addaction, said: "There needs to be a better understanding of why these regional differences exist. And there needs to be a better awareness that pregablin is liable to misuse. This is an area where prescribers and pharmacy staff have to be particularly vigilant."
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