Neurontin Abuse More Common That You Think
Neurontin, also known as gabapentin, is an anti-convulsant medication commonly prescribed as an alternative to opioids. It is indicated to treat nerve pain, and has also been approved by the FDA for the treatment of epilepsy. It’s also sometimes prescribed for other conditions, such as depression, migraines, and fibromyalgia.
A recent study found, however, that the drug is increasingly being misused by patients – in fact, one in five patients may be engaging in Neurontin abuse.
The study took urine samples from 323 patients treated at pain clinics and addiction recovery centers. Seventy patients were found to have taken neurontin without a prescription. Of those taking the drug illegally, more than half were also taking an opioid. Over a quarter were also taking both drugs with a muscle relaxant or anti-anxiety medication.
Of note, gabapentin is not a controlled substance. When taken alone, there isn’t much potential for abuse or serious overdose concerns, but when taken with opioids, muscle relaxants, and benzodiapezines, it may result in an exacerbation of combined effects, and euphoria.
Indeed, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, between 2008-2011, emergency room visits related to neurontin abuse increased nearly five-fold.
Poluru Reddy, PhD, medical director of ARIA Diagnostics in Indianapolis, IN at the annual meeting of the American Association for Clinical Chemistry in Philadelphia:
“The high rate of misuse of this medication is surprising and it is also a wakeup call for prescribers. Doctors don’t usually screen for gabapentin abuse… these findings reveal that there is a growing risk of abuse and a need for more robust testing.”
“Until recently, it was considered to have little potential for abuse however this review has shown that a significant amount of patients are taking Gabapentin without physician consent. This could be due to the fact that recent studies have revealed that Gabapentin may potentiate the ‘high’ obtained from other central nervous system acting drugs.”
Increasing Number of Prescriptions
A recent IMS health report found that 57 millions gabapentin prescriptions were written in 2015 in the United States, a 42% increase from 2011.
But the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has become wary of similar prescribing practices in the UK. Earlier this year, they recommended that gabapentin be reclassified as a Class C controlled substance.
Professor Les Iverson, ACMD chairman, in a letter to Home Office ministers:
“….gabapentin increasingly being reported as possessing a potential for misuse. When used in combination with other depressants, can cause drowsiness, sedation, respiratory failure and death.”
“Gabapentin can produce feelings of relaxation, calmness and euphoria. Some users have reported that the ‘high’ from snorted gabapentin can be similar to taking a stimulant.”
Gabapentin has been touted as a safer alternative to opioids, and in theory, this is true. Acute oral overdoses up to 49 grams have been reported, none of which, with treatment, resulted in death.
However, gabapentin is also a central nervous system depressant. Being such, combining the drug with other depressants such as opioids, anti-anxiety medication, muscle relaxers, or alcohol could have unpredictable and life-threatening results.
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