AKEED, Aya Khawaldeh
An electronic site published a report headlined "Lyrica Pills, New Addiction Invades University of Jordan." The report said that University of Jordan students were addicted to pills called "Lyrica." The report was based on testimonies by students without mentioning their names and without publishing other viewpoints or obtaining a response from the university concerning accusations by students that the university administration had failed to do its duty.
The Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor (AKEED) has been following the details of the issue. The students mentioned in the report claimed that "they collected around 400 packets of this medication from the university campus and placed them in front of university officials as part of a protest that was staged, while the university administration did not respond to them on the pretext that the drug was not on the list of banned items and narcotics."
The University of Jordan has denied the information mentioned in the report. Dr. Khaled Rawajfeh, dean of Student Affairs at the university, said in a call with AKEED that "there were no protests by the students." Had there been any, he would have known about them. Also, the head of university security denied these protests.
Rawajfeh added: "The website based its report on accusations that were arbitrarily made by anonymous sources--testimonies by unknown students. They do not include any known cases. The media is supposed to provide statistics and figures. If there are persons taking this drug, these are individual cases and we do not know about them."
In an interview, Dr. Hiam Wahbeh, head of the Control of Drugs and Psychotropic Substances in the Jordan Food and Drug Administration (JFDA), said that "the drug is listed as controlled and cannot be dispensed without a medical prescription" because they discovered that it has been abused by many young people. The JFDA revealed that "young people have been increasingly taking this drug. Also, the amounts seized by security agencies in the possession of persons who are arrested have been increasing. The Anti-Narcotics Department has seized large quantities that are smuggled across the border. Besides, medical conferences have indicated a rise in addiction to this drug."
To counter the spread of the drug, the JFDA listed it as controlled and is monitoring how pharmacies are dispensing it. Wahbeh says: "We in the Drug Administration in the JFDA seek to know the quantities of sedatives ordered by pharmacies and we check the nature of usage and sale by these pharmacies in particular."
According to Wahbeh, the penalty against violating pharmacies, which is referring them to a disciplinary council at the Jordan Pharmaceutical Association, was not enough. The council would impose fines, which are paid, but the rate of dispensation and order of drugs remains high. Therefore, the penalty has been tightened; it could result in closing the pharmacy and referring the owner to the attorney general.
On the nature of this drug and how pharmacists handle it, Ohood Khawaldeh, a pharmacist, says that "Lyrica, the generic name of which is Pregabalin, is prescribed for the treatment of neuropathy and fibromyalgia. The drug helps to stabilize electrical activity in the brain. It is sold at Jordanian pharmacies in different doses, which are 50, 75, 150, and 300 mg, and its prices range between 6 and 116 Jordanian dinars."
Khawaldeh justified the strong demand for the drug by saying that it was easy to get previously as it was not a controlled drug, which requires a doctor"s prescription. However, on 1 February 2017, the JFDA issued a decision, requiring a new medical prescription for each purchase, recording it in the daily prescription log, and keeping it for the purposes of inspection by the pharmacy inspector.
According to Khawaldeh, classified drugs are two types. There are control records, which contain controlled drugs. The quantity dispensed every three months is inspected; it should be close to the number of prescriptions. Meanwhile, monitored records contain controlled drugs that are classified as banned and narcotic drugs, such as Tramal. There is tighter control here. The pharmacy inspector compares the number of dispensed drugs with the number of medical prescriptions.
Like other pharmacists, Khawaldeh can tell a sick person from an addict. She says: "The drug is usually prescribed for disk and nerve diseases and is purchased by people over 35 years old or workers in manual professions and construction. Meanwhile, addicts are between 14 and 30 years old and exhibit symptoms of addiction, such as hallucination, fatigue, dizziness, and lack of concentration. Besides, patients do not buy the strips, but the whole packet because they need it, while addicts share the price of strips and control the dosage depending on their condition."
Khawaldeh added: "There are many pharmacies that only care about making profit despite their knowledge that those people are addicts. Had they refused to dispense the drug, the situation would have been different. Besides, the fact that the drug is now manufactured by Jordanian companies made it cheap and available for all."
She added: "An addict once threatened me and a fellow pharmacist because I refused to dispense the drug without a medical prescription. People in the neighborhood intervened. Had the pharmacy been in an uninhabited area, I would have been forced to dispense it."
Ali Momani, a neurologist, says that Lyrica pills are prescribed in certain doses to alleviate pain resulting from diabetes and injuries of the spinal cord. However, overdose of it is classified as one type of drugs and has a great effect on human health, especially the kidneys and liver.
"Under normal conditions, the drug has numerous side effects, let alone addiction to it," according to Momani. He adds that "its side effects include headache, dizziness, sense of isolation, and blurred vision. It makes an addict tense and unable to concentrate. Unfortunately, stopping it suddenly causes epileptic seizures for the patient. This is why it should be administered under medical supervision and gradually."
Momani said that pharmacies must not sell it without a medical prescription to control the number of addicts. Momani had previously heard about many cases of persons who pretend to be sick to get a medical prescription for one of the products of Pregabalin.
The AKEED Monitor stresses the importance of known sources for the level of credibility of press reports, especially when the matter has to do with a public issue, such as addiction among youth and university students. It also urges balance in raising such issues and others by listening to the views of other parties and competent agencies.