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What is Gabapentin? Is it Addictive?

October 26, 2020

Gabapentin, which is marketed as Neurontin, is a medication that has come under scrutiny lately, for its potentially additive characteristics.  So, what is Gabapentin prescribed for, and exactly how addictive is it? Gabapentin is an anti-epileptic drug, used to treat partial seizures in adults and children ages 3 years and up.  It can also be prescribed to treat minor to mild pain.  Another drug that is a close second to Gabapentin is Pregabalin, which is marketed under the name Lyrica.  Gabapentin and pregabalin are members of a class of anti-convulsive and anti-epileptic drugs called gabapentinoids. Gabapentin was first approved in 1993 and pregabalin followed in 2004.  According to the FDA.gov, these two medications have been pre-approved to treat nerve pain from spinal cord injuries, shingles, and diabetes.

According to an article from PubMed.gov, from 2012 to 2016 in the United States, gabapentin prescribing increased by 64%.  In 2017, 68 million prescriptions of gabapentin were dispensed, making gabapentin the 10th most commonly prescribed medication. This emerging pattern of abuse is evident in Ohio and Kentucky as well.  In 2017, Kentucky and Tennessee reclassified all gabapentinoid drugs (Gabapentin and Pregabalin) as Schedule V controlled substances.   Ohio, Virginia, Wyoming, Minnesota, West Virginia, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Nebraska, and New Jersey have added mandates that gabapentin prescriptions be reported to their state Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs.

The Columbus Dispatch reported in January of 2020 that, “according to OARRS, in 2018, there were 413 million solid oral doses of the drug [gabapentin] sold in Ohio. By comparison, there were more than 467 million doses of opioids prescribed in the state that same year, state data shows.”

One of BrightView’s Peer Recovery Support Specialist, says that, “before working here I noticed how badly it was abused. I often see many people abusing it and/or taking it without a prescription.”

Additional risk factors for gabapentin and pregabalin abuse, beyond OUD, include:

  • concurrent heroin use
  • past cocaine use
  • concurrent use of cannabis
  • concurrent use of benzodiazepines

Gabapentin, unlike pregabalin, is not currently considered a federally controlled substance in the United States.  Yet, a handful of states have added legislation to limit its misappropriation and misuse. In December of 2019, the FDA ordered that new warning labels of breathing risks be put on both medications. They also put out a series of warnings, asking people to seek medical attention if you or someone you are caring for experiences the following while taking either of these medications:

  • Bluish or tinted skin especially on the fingers, toes or lips
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Shallow, slowed or difficult breathing

Gabapentin and pregabalin, if used and taken as prescribed, and not abused, can be safe and beneficial. Another one of BrightView’s Peer Recovery Support Specialists who has been in recovery for 8 years, says “As a person in recovery for 8 years, I still experience severe pain from old injuries, and recent surgeries. but by being transparent with my doctor and using the tools I have learned throughout my time in recovery and taking gabapentin as prescribed or only when I really need it, it does what it is supposed to do."

There is help available to you if you or a loved one has a physical dependence or psychological dependence on drugs. It does not matter if the addiction is to illegal drugs or common legal drugs like alcohol, this is a disease that can take over your life. BrightView addiction treatment programs focus on providing a comprehensive, outpatient approach to drug treatment. We offer Medication-Assisted Treatment, or MAT, along with a combination of individual and group counseling. Our treatment center's proven approach helps patients achieve the best chance at long-term recovery while maintaining as many of their normal daily activities as possible. If you need help, contact us today. We have treatment facilities in Columbus, Ohio and throughout Kentucky. Our friendly staff answers our phone 24 hours a day. 1-833-510-HELP

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