The Gabapentin High – Misuse and Abuse of Neurontin Painkiller on the Rise
The medication Gabapentin (Neurontin) is considered a safe, non-addictive alternative to opioid painkillers. Recently, though, law enforcement and health care professionals witnessed a spike in the number of arrests and hospital visits associated with gabapentin abuse.
“We started hearing from pharmacists about people trying to get early refills. That’s usually a sign that something is being abused,” the executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, Van Ingram, told NBC News.
After officials in Ohio began monitoring sales of the medication, in December 2016, they discovered that gabapentin was the most prescribed painkiller in the state, even surpassing the opioid oxycodone.
Effects of Gabapentin Misuse and Abuse
Used as prescribed and not mixed with other dangerous substances, the medication is safe. However, a person abusing the drug is generally taking much more than the prescribed dose.
The effects of a gabapentin high range from an elevated mood or euphoria to a sense of calm, relaxation and improved sociability.
While the effects of misusing gabapentin sound harmless, the problem is that mixed with other substances, such as alcohol or opioids – heroin, fentanyl, prescription painkillers – it increases the potency or lethality of the other substances.
Many people have started misusing it to get high or increase the effects of other substances and it has become a favorite of opioid users to enhance the effects. Because it is not a controlled substance, it is fairly easy to find on the streets.
Gabapentin Approved and Off-Label Uses
Gabapentin is only approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as anticonvulsant drug for people with epilepsy and for nerve pain associated with shingles.
Because the drug is thought to be relatively safe, though, physicians prescribe gabapentin for a number of off-label uses. These can include the following:
- Withdrawal from other substances, such as alcohol, cocaine and methamphetamine
- Anxiety, mood disorders and attention deficit disorder
- Sleep disorders
- Migraines and back pain
Critics of off-label prescriptions of gabapentin point to the opioid epidemic as a stark lesson in what happens when doctors over circulate a reportedly safe drug.
“It got prescribed so much that everybody taking an opioid for chronic pain was also taking gabapentin,” Dr. James Patrick Murphy, a pain specialist based in Louisville, told NBC News. “People have a tendency to want to abuse anything that is mind-altering and a lot of times it is what is readily available to them.”
Dr. Murphy lamented that another consequence to over-prescribing and abuse associated with gabapentin will lead to policies that make it more difficult for patients who do well on the medication to get a prescription for it.
Responsible physicians will only prescribe dosages from 1,800 to 2,400 milligrams maximum per day of gabapentin for patients who need it, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The drug is also fairly inexpensive, even when it reaches street level sales. In Athens, Ohio, authorities report 300-milligram gabapentin pills go for 75 cents each.
Gabapentin (Neurontin) Side Effects
Not all people who misuse or abuse gabapentin report a positive experience. Some of the negative side effects from taking the drug include:
The commonly held belief is that gabapentin is non-addictive. Whether that’s the case or not, gabapentin abuse may be a symptom of self-destructive behavior associated depression or other mental health issues that can lead to addiction.
It’s important to point out that anyone feeling out of control because of gabapentin misuse should seek help and treatment, if necessary.
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