Louisville, KY—The nonopioid painkiller gabapentin is increasingly being misused, according to a new study, which urges pharmacists and other healthcare professionals to recognize its abuse potential.

The nerve-pain medication and anticonvulsant is marketed as Neurontin and available in generic forms. The report, in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, warns that the drug is typically combined with opioids, marijuana, cocaine, and opioid-addiction treatment medication, compounding side effects to the central nervous system that include euphoria and sedation.

The University of Louisville School of Nursing–led study points out that opioid abusers have turned to gabapentin when crackdowns made their drugs of choice difficult to obtain.

“People are looking for other drugs to substitute for opioids, and gabapentin has filled that place for some,” explained lead author Rachel Vickers Smith, PhD, MPH, assistant professor in the University of Louisville School of Nursing. “Some have said it gives them a high similar to opioids. It had been easy to get a prescription for gabapentin and it’s very cheap.”

The study, involving 33 people, looked at recreational gabapentin use by a cohort of study participants in Appalachian Kentucky. In most cases, participants reported having started using gabapentin more than a decade ago after receiving a prescription for a legitimate—although often off-label—use for pain, anxiety, and opioid detoxification.

Last summer, Kentucky became the first state to classify gabapentin as a controlled substance, making it more difficult for the medication to be prescribed. State lawmakers relied on research findings of Vickers Smith and others as evidence during state senate hearings, according to the study.

Two years ago, however, the CDC released guidance recommending gabapentin as an alternative to opioids for pain treatment.

“Early on, it was assumed to have no abuse potential,” Vickers Smith said. “There’s a need to examine it in further detail, especially if prescribing it is going to be encouraged.”

Study authors conclude, “Providers should be aware of gabapentin’s abuse potential, and a reexamination of the need for scheduling is warranted.”

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