As the opioid crisis rages on in America, users who want to get high are now taking a drug that has been traditionally prescribed for nerve pain.
The Problem With The Drug
Gabapentin is a generic drug that is 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, drug users are turning to Gabapentin as an alternative to get high. Over 1 percent of the general population in the United States and 22 percent in drug abuse treatment centers misuse the drug. Thousands of Americans have died in the past few years because of overdoses from Gabapentin.
Sedation, one of the side effects of Gabapentin, is one reason why users turn to this drug. Some of them also mix it with other drugs to enhance the effects.
"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's Causing The Crisis?
New regulations for opioid painkillers have resulted in doctors turning to alternative drugs, such as Gabapentin, 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 that 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.
Treatment And Solutions
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 has now 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.