Recreational use and abuse of the prescription drug gabapentin is on the rise, data show, and the increase has raised concern among officials in several states.
The non-opioid medication, known as “Johnnys” on the streets, is prescribed to treat epileptic seizures and nerve damage-related pain. The anticonvulsant is available in generic form and sold under the brand names Neurotonin and Gralise, among others. The drug is also used to treat people who are in detox treatment from alcohol withdrawal and cocaine withdrawal, and can be prescribed for insomnia, bipolar disorder, and restless legs syndrome. The medication also is prescribed for off-label purposes, including anxiety. It can be taken in capsule or tablet form, or as an oral solution.
As of September 2017, the website GoodRx.com reported that gabapentin, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1993, was among the most-dispensed prescriptions in the United States.
How Does Gabapentin Work?
Gabapentin affects the brain and the nervous system and works to stabilize the electrical activity in the brain. It is not fully understood how the drug works, but according to NetDoctor.co.uk, “Gabapentin appears to affect the build-up of electrical signals in the nerve cells, as well as affecting the activity of various neurotransmitters in the brain and nervous system.”
Those who abuse gabapentin may take it with other medicines, including opioids and anti-anxiety medications, to experience relaxation or a sense of calm, intense pleasure, and a high that some have described as like that of marijuana. People who use alcohol with gabapentin may feel dizzy or increased sleepiness, the FDA warns.
Data Show Illicit Gabapentin Use on the Rise
Gabapentin is currently not a controlled substance in the United States, so federal authorities do not consider it a drug with a high potential for abuse. But recent data indicate that the drug promoted as an alternative to opioids is one to watch as gabapentin-related complications and overdose deaths are increasing.
Some states have taken note of the increase in use and are pursuing stricter measures for access to the drug.
Why Gabapentin Abuse Is Dangerous
There are a few reasons why gabapentin abuse has landed on the radar. First, while gabapentin doesn’t carry the risk of a deadly overdose as opioids do, some observers say it is no less dangerous. Taking more or less of the drug, as well as taking it for longer periods than prescribed, are all risky actions that are not as widely known, some say.
There’s also concern that people who are in drug addiction recovery can easily abuse it for its euphoric effects. According to a report by StatNews.com, gabapentin can enhance euphoric feelings caused by an opioid and keep drug withdrawal at bay. The medication also can get past the blocking effects of medicines used in addiction treatment, which means clients can still get high.
People who have abused gabapentin and now find themselves addicted to the drug are advised to avoid going cold turkey. Instead, consider entering a professional addiction recovery treatment center that can help you detox safely from the substance and help you into a treatment program where you address your addiction and learn the tools to a healthy, drug-free life.
Some States Tracking Gabapentin Sales, Use
Gabapentin was the No. 1 drug dispensed in Ohio in December 2016, according to the Ohio Board of Pharmacy. In that same year, the medication was dispensed at a greater rate than any other controlled substance. This information promoted the Ohio Substance Abuse Monitoring Network to issue an alert about the illicit use of gabapentin across the state.
Kentucky designated gabapentin as a Schedule 5 controlled substance in July 2017. The regulation requires authorized practitioners to be properly licensed and registered with the DEA before they can dispense the medication.
West Virginia is also tracking gabapentin abuse and may introduce legislation in January 2018 that would aim to classify it as a controlled substance in the state. Gabapentin has market value on the streets and it is being abused according to the definition of a scheduled drug, Dr. Brad Henry, president of the West Virginia State Medical Association, told the newspaper.
In December 2017, a surge of overdoses, as reported by the Charleston Gazette-Mail, has prompted the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy to identify gabapentin as a “drug of concern” and start tracking gabapentin sales in the state.
According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, “In a recent month, West Virginia pharmacies filled prescriptions for 5.8 million gabapentin tablets — more than the combined number of doses of two popular painkillers, hydrocodone, and oxycodone.”
The article also goes on to say, “Gabapentin-related overdose deaths have increased from 36 in 2012 to 106 [in 2016].”
“There has been a tremendous increase in the number of gabapentin dispensings and [those] involving overdoses,” Mike Goff, the pharmacy board’s acting executive director, told state lawmakers. “We’re tracking the drug now, and we’re seeing what we thought we would see,” Goff said, according to the newspaper.
Ohio also has been monitoring gabapentin prescriptions for more than a year.
Do You or Someone You Know Abuse Gabapentin?
If you or someone you know engages in gabapentin abuse or addiction, call Ocean Breeze Recovery today at 855-960-5341 or contact us online to learn more about your options. We can help you get on the path to sobriety today.
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