There’s no doubting it, North America has a problem with opioid addiction. You’ve likely heard a lot about this issue in recent years, but there’s another prescription drug you need to know about. It’s being widely used and talked about very little; it goes by the name of gabapentin.
What is Gabapentin?
Gabapentin is a prescription drug that has been used in the United States as a treatment for seizures since 1993 (1). It is also commonly used to treat nerve pain caused by shingles (2). In recent years, gabapentin has been prescribed to treat a variety of unapproved conditions off-label, which has become a big problem (1).
Gabapentin comes in the forms of an oral capsule, an extended-release oral tablet, an immediate release oral tablet, and an oral solution (2). You may recognize this drug by its brand name, Neurontin (2).
Gabapentin belongs to the class of drugs called anti-epileptics and works by altering the transmission of nerve signals in the brain (3). Some of the most common side effects associated with the drug include skin rash, drowsiness, dizziness, headache, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and weight gain (4). Gabapentin is widely considered to be a non-addictive alternative to opiates for chronic pain, but that hasn’t stopped addicts from abusing this drug (5).
How is Gabapentin Being Abused?
Even though gabapentin is not an opioid, it can enhance the euphoria caused by opioids (5). When used in conjunction with already dangerous opioids like fentanyl and heroin, it makes them even more lethal (6). Gabapentin is also often used in combination with substances including benzodiazepines and alcohol (7).
Gabapentin is misused mostly for recreational purposes, self-harm, or self-medication (7). A 2016 study found that gabapentin misuse in the U.S. population was 40-65% among adults with prescriptions and 15-22% among people who abuse opioids (7).
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What Experts Think About Gabapentin
Experts are worried about how easily available Gabapentin is and the number of prescriptions being handed out (8). In Ohio, police have reported a dramatic rise in the abuse of gabapentin with 300 mg pills being sold for as little as 75 cents in the college town of Athens (6). Rachel Quivey, a pharmacist in Athens, Ohio who first started noticing patients abusing the drug half a decade ago, explained, “Gabapentin is so readily available. That, in my opinion, is where a lot of that danger is. It’s available to be abused.” (5).
Even though experts stress that gabapentin is not the next opioid epidemic, they believe that the abuse of the drug is something that should be watched closely (8). People have died from overdosing on the gabapentin already, and the last thing we need is for another drug to contribute to the opioid crisis (1).
If you’ve been struggling with addiction and are overusing gabapentin, there is help out there. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration website to locate behavioural health treatment services near you or call their 24-hour free hot line for support and treatment referrals at 1-200-662-HELP. Read this next to learn about medication combinations that should be avoided.
(1) Is Gabapentin the Newest Prescription Drug Killer? (2018, January 17). Retrieved from https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/gabapentin-newest-prescription-drug-killer/
(2) Gabapentin, Oral Capsule. (2018, February 9). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/gabapentin-oral-capsule
(3) PMS-Gabapentin. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.rexall.ca/articles/view/1964/PMS-Gabapentin
(4) Gabapentin. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.epilepsysociety.org.uk/gabapentin
(5) Rodriguez, C.H. (2017, July 6). News on the streets: Gabapentin, a drug for nere pain, and a new target of misuse. Retrieved from https://www.statnews.com/2017/07/06/gabapentin-becomes-target-of-opioid-abuse/
(6) Siemaszko, C. (2018, April 1). Health officials are sounding an alarm on the drug gabapentin. Ant it’s not even an opioid. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/americas-heroin-epidemic/health-officials-are-sounding-alarm-drug-gabapentin-it-s-not-n861111
(7) Smith, R.V., Havens, J.R., Walsh, S.L. (2016, July). Gabapentin misuse, abuse and diversion: a systematic review. Addiction, 111 (7), 1160-1174. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27265421
(8) Catallo, H. (2017, September 12). Abuse on the rise of prescription drug gabapentin, known as “Johnnys”. Retrieved from https://www.wxyz.com/news/local-news/investigations/with-abuse-on-the-rise-experts-warn-about-johnnys-the-prescription-drug-gabapentin
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