Gabapentin: New Drug of Abuse for People in Treatment? Risk vs. Reward
According to the Census in 2015, the United States had a total population of 321 million people. In that same year, 57 million prescriptions for gabapentin were written.
Gabapentin—or its brand name Neurontin—is an anti-seizure medication which also helps decrease convulsions and nerve pain. It’s frequently given to patients in detox facilities and drug treatment programs for different reasons.
When prescribed to patients who abuse alcohol and benzodiazepines, gabapentin works to prevent seizures and convulsions during the withdrawal period. Alternatively, when people who struggle with opiate dependence take the medication, it helps to alleviate nerve pain and restless legs, both of which are associated with opiate withdrawal.
Risk vs. Reward
In recent years, gabapentin has been prescribed for off-label conditions (reasons it wasn’t intended for) up to 83% of the time—more than most other drugs on the market. Some physicians even prefer this medication over traditional therapies when treating ailments such as depression, ADD, bipolar disorder, and even cocaine addiction.
Some of the common side effects of gabapentin use include:
- Lack of stability
- Memory loss
- Difficulty speaking
Prescribing doctors must weigh risks versus rewards to determine if gabapentin is right for their patients. Since many of the drug’s side effects mimic the effects of commonly abused narcotics, the brain can be fooled into thinking it’s something harder, making patients crave more of it.
Playing With Fire
Gabapentin is not a narcotic and produces little—if any—mind- or mood-altering effects on its own. However, drug abusers say it has the power to increase euphoric effects when used in combination with drugs like opiates and benzos. In 2013 alone, gabapentin played a role in 41 deaths, mostly caused by dangerous drug interactions.
Gabapentin is already a drug of abuse in prison, but individuals residing in halfway houses and sober living homes are also beginning to pick up on this trend. Furthermore, those receiving treatment in halfway houses often sell or trade these meds because:
- The demand is so high
- It’s easy to obtain in large quantities
- It doesn’t show up in a drug screen
With all this in mind, debate should be had as to whether there should be additional restrictions on gabapentin.
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