Gabapentin: Generic Drug For Nerve Pain Now Being Regularly Abused Following Opioid Crackdown

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A drug called Gabapentin is becoming more prevalent these days as an alternative drug of abuse, now that U.S. authorities are taking even bigger steps to fight the ongoing opioid epidemic.

According to the Associated Press, Gabapentin, which is a non-opioid generic drug that’s been around since 1993, was the ninth most frequently prescribed medication in the United States in 2017. The drug is typically prescribed to patients as a “low risk” treatment for nerve pain, seizures, and related illnesses, but its increasing popularity appears to have little to do with its traditional usage. Instead, it is now being prescribed by doctors as an alternative to opioid painkillers, and reportedly being abused in a similar fashion to opioids such as Vicodin and Oxycontin.

Although prescriptions for the aforementioned opioid medications have been declining steadily since 2012, government health officials have recently dealt with an uptick in unusual drug overdose cases. With that in mind, the Food and Drug Administration is reportedly keeping a close eye on the rising trend of Gabapentin abuse, and preparing to share the results of its findings.

“One of the lessons from this whole opioid crisis is that we probably were too slow to act where we saw problems emerging and we waited for more definitive conclusions,” read a statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

“I don’t want to be sitting here five or 10 years from now lamenting that we didn’t take more aggressive action.”

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Drugs.com’s gabapentin fact sheet includes an extensive list of FDA-recommended adult and child dosages for the medication, covering a range of medical conditions such as epilepsy, postherpetic neuralgia, and restless legs syndrome.

Based on existing medical literature, approximately 15 to 25 percent of opioid abusers also take gabapentin, which could increase the chances of an overdose if taken together with an opioid. While the drug is generally thought of as being nonaddictive, the Associated Press noted that U.S. poison control centers have been recording more calls regarding Gabapentin abuse and overdoses. The report added that many doctors have yet to realize that the drug can be addictive after all, especially when a patient has a history of misusing or abusing medications.

According to University of Louisville researcher Rachel Vickers Smith, Gabapentin abusers have cited the drug’s widespread availability, as well as its ability to produce a “cheap high,” as reasons why they consume it regularly. These users also claimed to mix it with other types of drugs, including opioids, marijuana, and cocaine, to get an even more intense high. This, they claim, could result in anything from increased energy levels to a numb, “mellow” sensation.

With Kentucky having classified Gabapentin as a “scheduled substance” in 2017, and other states tracking the medication amid rising prescriptions and reports of Gabapentin abuse, there has been some debate as to whether it should be reclassified on a nationwide level. But this isn’t the first time that the drug has been at the center of controversy. In 2004, its original manufacturer, Warner-Lambert, pleaded guilty to knowingly promoting gabapentin for a number of conditions, including attention deficit disorder, bipolar disorder, and migraines, that did not have approval from the FDA.