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 and people only using it to get high.
“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 the Gabapentin High From Abuse and Misuse
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 gabapentin abuse might sound harmless, the problem is amplified when it is mixed with other substances, such as alcohol or opioids like heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers because it increases the potency or lethality of all the substances combined.
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 Abuse – 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.
Gabapentin off-label uses can include the following:
- Withdrawal from other substances, such as alcohol, cocaine and methamphetamine
- Anxiety, mood disorders and attention deficit disorder
- Sleep disorders such as restless leg syndrome
- Migraines and back pain
Critics of off-label prescriptions for Neurontin 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 of gabapentin abuse from over-prescribing it might 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. That is a relatively cheap price for obtaining any type of prescription medication on the street that has a high potential for abuse or to be used recreationally.
Gabapentin High (Neurontin) Side Effects
Not all people who experience gabapentin abuse or misuse report a positive experience.
Some of the negative Neurontin side effects from taking the drug can include:
- Skin rash
- Nausea or vomiting
- Breathing difficulty
- Lethargy or sleepiness
- Increased heart rate
- Sweating more than usual
Some of these side effects only appear when taking high doses of the medication recreationally to achieve a Gabapentn high.
Most prescription users gradually increase the dosage over time as recommended by their doctor so they usually don’t experience the same side effects as seen by users who take high dosages from the start.
Any person who suffers some or all of these side effects while taking Neurontin, either from a prescription or recreationally to experience a Gabapentin high, should stop taking it immediately.
For those taking the medication under the guidance of a physician, they should let their doctor know about the side effects as soon as possible and monitor any form of rash to see if it becomes worse.
Fortunately, Gabapentin does not act in the same manner as certain types of antidepressant medications, so it is completely safe to stop using it all at once without the need to taper off of it like with benzodiazepines.
Gabapentin Abuse is a Serious Issue
There is a commonly held belief that gabapentin is non-addictive. Whether that’s the case or not, gabapentin abuse may be a symptom of self-destructive behavior associated with depression or other mental health issues that can lead to addiction.
As with any type of prescription medication, Gabapentin can be extremely helpful for those who need it. When taken as prescribed under the supervision of a doctor, it is safe and relatively harmless with only a few known side effects that can usually be alleviated by discontinuing its use at the first signs of any issues.
Misusing or abusing Gabapentin or any form of prescription medication is a serious issue that can create additional health complications after prolonged use.
It is important to point out that anyone feeling out of control because of gabapentin abuse should seek help and treatment if necessary.