A CORONER has said he is “deeply concerned” about the potential for abuse of a prescription painkiller, following the death of a 37-year-old Milford Haven man.

Gareth Edward Thomas, of Grassholm Close, died on May 10, 2016, after taking an unknown quantity of pregabalin and diazepam.

Speaking at an inquest on Thursday (October 20), Pembrokeshire coroner Mark Layton said Mr Thomas died after unintentionally overdosing on the drugs.

Mr Thomas had been prescribed pregabalin - a pain killer also used to treat seizures - in the months before his death, as treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome.

His GP also prescribed the muscle relaxant diazepam – commonly used to treat anxiety.

Mr Thomas suffered from a chest infection early in the year, resulting in him spending six days in Withybush Hospital.

He was recalled to Swansea prison in March, for failing to notify the authorities of a change of address.

His partner, Natasha Smith-Howell, said she felt Mr Thomas was not well enough to return to prison, but Mr Layton said doctors at Withybush Hospital were satisfied he was fit for discharge at the time of his arrest.

Mr Thomas' prescription continued during his three months in prison, where he told medical officers he had no suicidal feelings, and did not wish to self-harm.

But he said he would be seeking counselling for a traumatic experience from his childhood, an issue he also disclosed to his partner after being released.

Giving evidence, Ms Smith-Howell said at around 11am on May 10, she woke to find Mr Thomas in a “deep sleep” and could not wake him.

Before leaving the house to buy groceries, she remembered seeing an empty packet of diazepam, which she assumed he had taken to help him sleep.

When she returned, she made a 35-minute phone call in another room, before returning to the bedroom, where she noticed Mr Thomas’ colour had changed.

She realised “something was wrong” and tried to wake him, but failed, and rang 999.

A fire crew was first to the scene with a defibrillator, followed by paramedics and the police.

Mr Thomas was pronounced dead at 3.38pm.

In the months leading up to his death, Mr Thomas had been prescribed 63 tablets of pregabalin per month, which he was supposed to take three times a day, and 42 diazepam tablets, which were recommended twice a day.

Ms Smith-Howell said Gareth regularly abused his prescription, always taking “more than he was meant to”.

But, she said she did not believe Mr Thomas overdosed on purpose.

“I believe he kept waking up and took some more,” she said.

Mr Thomas’ sister, who also attended the inquest, questioned why Mr Thomas’ GP prescribed so many drugs to an “addict”.

Mr Layton said pregabalin was becoming the “most rapidly abused drug” in Britain.

He said it was a new form of medication, and its effects were unknown.

He urged caution in its prescription, adding he had already raised the issue with Public Health Wales.

The coroner said he was “deeply concerned” about its potential for abuse, its availability, and the potential impact when taken in conjunction with other drugs.

He said he had overseen several inquests recently where pregabalin had been involved.

Mr Layton said the level of pregabalin in Mr Thomas’ blood was five times higher than the recommended therapeutic amount, but said this figure could have been higher or lower at the time of death.

He said diazepam and pregabalin were both central nervous system depressants, and could enhance each other’s effect when combined.

He concluded Mr Thomas’ death was drug related, but unintentional and accidental.