HEALTH Board chiefs have given assurances that a controversial new drug which has been 'heavily distributed' on the Isle of Cumbrae is safe to use.

Pregabalin, which has been described as the 'new valium', has been linked to a number of deaths in Tayside when mixed with heroin by drug addicts.

It is primarily used for people recovering from epilepsy, but can also be used by people suffering from anxiety disorders and other ailments.

A recent media report claimed that the number of deaths linked to the prescription drug had doubled in a year amid fears that it was being used by heroin addicts to enhance their high.

It was revealed that people on the Isle of Cumbrae are one of the heaviest users of Pregabalin in Scotland, but NHS Ayrshire and Arran today moved quickly to dispel any concerns.

The News understands that the deaths relate to Tayside, leading the Scottish Green Party to call on Health Scotland's chief medical officer to review the use of the Pregabalin.

Alison Johnstone, health spokeswoman for the Scottish Green Party, said that the guidance on prescribing the drug should be re-examined.

She said: “We should take notice when medical experts and drugs workers raise such serious concerns. It’s important that GPs have up-to-date information."

Reports state that Pregabalin costs the Scottish NHS a total of £36 million last year which is more than any other medication dispensed by doctors' surgeries.

Roisin Kavanagh. Interim Director of Pharmacy of NHS Ayrshire, said: "Pregabalin is a safe and effective medication when prescribed by a medical practitioner. It is a licensed medicine and can be prescribed for people with epilepsy, those experiencing anxiety disorders and those with neuropathic pain.

"NHS Ayrshire has robust governance procedures for overseeing prescribing rates in Ayrshire.

"We work closely with our partners in Primary Care to ensure people who have long-term conditions receive regular medication reviews.

"This ensures that people receive the most effective medications for their conditions."

Cunninghame North MSP Kenneth Gibson said: "I am concerned and I’m going to try and raise this as a constituency question at First Minister’s Questions.

"I asked the Scottish Government for their view and was advised that decisions to prescribe a specific medicine are for the GP or prescribing clinician, working within their clinical competence and in consultation with the patient, taking into account the individual circumstances.”