As the opioid crisis rages on in America, a drug that was traditionally prescribed for nerve pain is now being taken by users who want to get high.
The Problem With The Drug
Gabapentin is a generic drug typically used to treat nerve pain and seizures. The 25-year-old drug was one of the most prescribed medications in 2017.
“Gabapentin was prescribed off-label for pain because it was thought to be a safer alternative to opioids,” Steven Evans, MD, medical director of American Addiction Centers/Nevada, told MedShadow. “But now people who don’t need it are starting to use it.”
With tighter access to opioid painkillers, some drug users are turning to Gabapentin as an alternative to get high. Over 1 percent of the United States population misuses the drug, including 22 percent of those seeking treatment from drugs. Thousands of Americans have died in the past few years because of overdoses of Gabapentin.
Sedation, one of the side effects of Gabapentin, is one reason why users turn to this drug. Some users might also mix it with other drugs to enhance the high.
“We started hearing from pharmacists about people trying to get early refills,” Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, told NBC News. “That is usually a sign that something is being abused. “
What Is Causing The Crisis?
New regulations for opioid painkillers have resulted in doctors turning to alternative drugs, such as Gebapentin, for patients. The result is that more people have Gabapentin, and they might not be aware of the consequences.
“We’re basically squeezing people into other drugs because the prescription opioids are becoming a lot harder to get,” said Dr. Richard Dart.
Overdoses from Gabapentin are so prevalent, the Food and Drug Administration recently commissioned a study to research the uses of the drug. The FDA wants to take action against the drug as soon as possible.
“The Food and Drug Administration is now studying patterns of prescribing and illicit use of gabapentin and will soon share its findings,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.
Unlike opiates, there is no antidote for an overdose of Gabapentin. People who have overdosed on the drug are asked to seek immediate medical care to combat the side effects.
After a rise in fatal overdoses in Kentucky, officials in that state classified Gabapentin as a scheduled substance so that it can be restricted. Other states would have to follow the same protocols in order to combat this drug. A national awareness campaign about the dangers of Gabapentin could also help.