Gabapentin Prescriptions Triple Amidst Opioid Crisis, Could Signal New Epidemic

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Published: 01/8/2018 | Author:

Prescriptions for gabapentin have tripled in the U.S. in recent years, and are mostly being used by patients who are also using opioids, according to findings from a new study. Gabapentin is commonly prescribed to treat nerve pain and seizures, though the drug is now being more widely used as an alternative to opioids to treat chronic pain. However, research shows that patients are continuing to use opioids while taking gabapentin — the latter of which has been found to carry its own risk for addiction, and can be fatal when mixed with opioids and benzodiazepines.

Gabapentin Use Becoming More Widespread

Gabapentin Prescriptions

Doctors are prescribing more gabapentin to replace opioids, despite potential risks.

The number of U.S. adults prescribed gabapentin more than tripled between 2002 and 2015. The study, which was published in the latest issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, says that nearly one in 25 U.S. adults use gabapentin despite the fact there is little data supporting the efficacy and long-term safety of the drug. According to the JAMA study, the majority of Americans using gabapentin are older adults, people diagnosed with multiple chronic health problems, and people who are already using either opioids or benzodiazepines.

Study author Dr. Michael Johansen says the rise in gabapentin use could be partly attributed to the opioid epidemic, since more doctors are turning to gabapentin to treat chronic pain in place of opioids. But though gabapentin is a non-opioid pain reliever, the drug can be dangerous when used in high doses, and can increase the risk for respiratory depression and death when combined with opioids and benzodiazepines.

Could Replacing Opioids with Gabapentin Cause a New Epidemic?

At present, gabapentin is not scheduled as a controlled substance like opioids and benzodiazepines. However, the drug has been linked to abuse and dependence, and can produce withdrawal symptoms in those who use the drug long-term, or who use the drug in high doses. Gabapentin has been reported to produce euphoria, relaxation, and calmness, and to enhance the effects of opioids and benzodiazepines. Some report that gabapentin even works like a stimulant when crushed and snorted.

A higher number of U.S. doctors are starting to turn to non-opioid pain relievers like gabapentin to treat chronic pain without worsening the opioid crisis. However, the JAMA study suggests that replacing opioids with gabapentin could lead to another epidemic if people abuse gabapentin, or continue using opioids while using other medications. When prescribing gabapentin to patients, doctors must carefully monitor doses, interactions, and fatal side effects to lower the risk for another deadly epidemic.

How to Get Help for Prescription Drug Addiction

Combining gabapentin with opioids or benzodiazepines can depress your respiration, and lead to slowed or stopped breathing that increases the risk for death. If you or a family member is using gabapentin, opioids, benzodiazepines, or a combination of these drugs, talk to your doctor about changing your prescriptions to lower the risk for an overdose or death. Your doctor can discontinue treatment for one or more of these drugs by placing you on a tapering schedule so you can avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Prescription drug addiction can also be safely and fully treated at a drug detox center. Drug detox centers help you withdraw from substances with a lowered risk for fatal side effects, and may replace the drug of abuse with medications that completely eliminate withdrawal symptoms. Continued drug abuse increases the risk for an overdose, coma, and death, and can happen to anyone who abuses gabapentin, or who combines this medication with other substances.

If you or someone you love needs help fighting prescription drug addiction, call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 800-483-2193(Who Answers?) to learn more about your treatment options. We’ll help you find the nearest drug detox center ready to guide you along the path to improved health and sobriety.

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