Gabapentin Use Found To Significantly Increase Risk of Opioid Overdose
A new study questions the safety a drug commonly prescribed to treat nerve pain and seizures – more specifically, when it’s used in conjunction with prescription painkillers. The study, published online in the journal PLOS Medicine, finds that combining gabapentin with prescribed opioids is linked to a significantly higher risk of death from an overdose than opioid use along.
From the conclusion:
“Clinicians should consider carefully whether to continue prescribing this combination of products and when deemed necessary, should closely monitor their patients and adjust opioid dose according.”
For the study, researchers examined data culled from more than 1,200 people in Ontario who died from causes related to opioids. They were then compared to a control group of more than 4,600 others who used prescription opioids but had not died from an overdose.
In total, more than 12% of the deceased and nearly 7% of the control group received a prescription for gabapentin in the past 120 days. After considering other risk factors, the researchers found that the gabapentin-opioid combination was linked to a 49% greater risk of death from an overdose.
Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant that was initially developed as an epilepsy treatment. However, it is now more widely used for neuropathic pain such as shingles and chronic pain conditions – sometimes in addition to opioids.
This is believed to be the first study to examine the risk of using the two medications in combination, although both are capable of causing central nervous system depression that may result in an overdose.
From the research:
“Almost 10% of patients treated with an opioid in our study also used gabapentin, while nearly half of patients treated with gabapentin were co-prescribed opioids.”
It was also noted that gabapentin is often used in conjunction with opioids to address neuropathic pain conditions, but that doctors may be unaware of the “potential for respiratory depression with this drug.”
The authors also noted that the anticonvulsant pregabalin may also increase the risk of overdose when used in conjunction with prescription opioids, but they are as of yet unable to test this theory.
However, a previous study did link gabapentin and pregabalin to an increase in overdoses in both England and Wales. Some users believe that the medication can intensity the high they experience when it is taken with opioids.
An estimated 64 million prescriptions were written for gabapentin in 2016 in the U.S., reflecting, a 49% increase from 2011.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology