Non-Opioid Drug Gabapentin Found to Help Surgical Patients Stop Opioids Sooner

Surgical patients are commonly prescribed opioid painkillers like morphine and oxycodone to manage and treat postoperative pain. But a new JAMA study reveals that patients who take a non-opioid pain reliever called gabapentin before and after surgery have a reduced need for continued opioid use. This new finding could help lower opioid addiction and overdose rates amidst an ongoing nationwide epidemic.

Replacing Opioids with Gabapentin After Surgery


Using gabapentin can reduce the need for painkillers after surgery.

Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine randomly assigned 422 surgical patients to take either gabapentin or a placebo before surgery, and for three days following surgery. All patients were followed for up to two years to determine whether any of these patients obtained opioid prescriptions later on to manage pain. Researchers found that patients who received gabapentin to manage pain were able to reduce their need for continued painkillers by 24% — regardless of the type of surgery they had.

Gabapentin was shown to have no effect on the length of time patients experienced postoperative pain, but did affect the length of time patients felt they needed to use painkillers for relief. The study authors are unsure exactly how gabapentin reduces the need for opioids, but suspect that gabapentin produces long-lasting effects that help keep pain at bay. Select hospitals around the U.S. are already replacing opioids with gabapentin to treat postoperative pain, and to help cut down on rates of chronic opioid use and addiction.

What Are the Benefits of Using Gabapentin Over Opioids?

Gabapentin is a nerve pain medication and anticonvulsant commonly prescribed to treat seizures and pain caused by shingles. Though gabapentin has been linked to cases of dependency and addiction when abused or used long-term, doctors consider the drug to be less deadly and addictive than most opioids.

Patients who took gabapentin in the latest JAMA study were less likely to suffer common unpleasant side effects normally triggered by opioids, including nausea, constipation, and sedation. The study authors say that people who are more vulnerable to addiction on behalf of genetics, history of drug abuse, and other factors may benefit from using gabapentin over opioids, as well as those seeking non-opioid pain treatments.

Gabapentin is also sometimes used in drug detox to treat addiction to alcohol, opioids, and benzodiazepines. Gabapentin is thought to work by interacting with certain brain neurotransmitters to produce a calming effect on the body, which helps reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms triggered by overcoming alcohol, opioid, and benzodiazepine dependence.

Risks Associated with Gabapentin Use

Though gabapentin has been shown effective at reducing pain and treating drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms, this drug may produce adverse effects in some individuals. Gabapentin has been linked to an increased risk for seizures in some patients, and may cause flu symptoms and digestive problems.

But when weighing the risks between using gabapentin and opioids to manage postoperative pain, gabapentin may be the preferred option among those who want to lower their risk for opioid dependence and addiction as much as possible. Opioids were linked to over 53,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2016, and over 33,000 overdose deaths in 2015.

Opioid addiction in the U.S. is a current public health emergency. If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid addiction, understand that getting help now could potentially save your life, or that of your loved one. Call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-351-3840(Who Answers?) to speak with an experienced drug abuse counselor about your options for opioid addiction treatment.

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