Gabapentin, sold under the brand names Neurotin, Gralise, and Horizant, is a drug most commonly prescribed for the treatment of nerve damage. While the drug is a useful medication for patients who suffer from epilepsy, restless leg syndrome, and pain caused by nerve damage, it is also proving itself to have a high risk of abuse.
Although it has not even been classified as a Controlled Substance in all 50 states, many state governments are taking steps to reclassify it. The Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, which declared the drug a controlled substance last year, reported that the drug was involved in nearly 33% of all overdose deaths that occurred in the state during 2016.
So what is gabapentin exactly and just how addictive is it? Is the drug a problem that we can expect to hear more about in the future? We’ve outlined some important information below that we thought you might want to know.
The Basic Facts
Neurotonin and its competitors are relatively new, having shown up in the United States during the early 1990s. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s, however, that it gained FDA approval and doctors started to prescribe it on a regular basis. Today, the drug is used widely for both recreational and medicinal purposes. Stat, a journal that covers addiction-related topics, reported that the drug recently crawled its way to the top of the most prescribed substances list. It surpassed oxycodone by a margin of roughly 9 million prescriptions.
Because the drug is so new, there has been comparatively little research done into its side-effects and risk of abuse.
What we do know is this: gabapentin is not an opioid. The drug’s mechanism of action does not involve the opioid receptors in your brain, which makes it far less addictive than other prescription meds like oxycodone or benzodiazepines. Similar to marijuana, it has a mild sedative effect and causes some (but not all) users to feel high under its influence. Because the drug is not an opioid, it is sometimes used to treat heroin withdrawal symptoms as part of an opiate replacement therapy program.
Typically, patients are prescribed to take three 300 mg to 1200 mg dosages per day to treat neuropathic conditions like epilepsy. By taking more than the advised dosage or mixing it with other drugs, however, individuals can easily abuse gabapentin.
It Actually Has a Low Risk of Addiction
Because the drug does not interact with the opioid receptors (it targets the GABA neurotransmitters instead), it is not considered to be a very addictive drug. At the same time, however, it can produce withdrawal symptoms in people who abuse it. Also, it’s a sedative and can produce a high, so it’s entirely possible for individuals to become psychologically dependent on it.
Despite the low risk of addiction that it carries, gabapentin is abused by many people on a regular basis. A 2015 study conducted in Kentucky reported that 15% of all opiate abusers in the region also misused drugs like Neurotin or Horizant.
Side Effects of Neurontin and Similar Drugs
Gabapentin carries a number of potential side effects, including:
- Loss of coordination
- Inability to communicate
- Inability to focus
- Memory loss
- Blurry vision
These side effects can appear in users who take the drug for medical purposes and use it responsibly. However, individuals who abuse it or are addicted to it are far more likely to experience the negative side effects. If you taking a prescribed dose and experience any of the effects listed above, make sure to contact your doctor.
Does Lyrica Contain Gabapentin?
No. Lyrica is different from drugs like Neurontin. Lyrica contains a similar, related chemical called pregabalin. Whereas gabapentin is a slow-release medication, pregabalin is quickly absorbed into the system and is therefore expelled at a much faster rate.
Both drugs carry a high risk of overdose and death when mixed with heroin or other opioids. Unlike Nuerontin, however, Lyrica and all forms of pregabalin are currently scheduled as Schedule 5 substances under federal law. Essentially, this means that the illegal possession and distribution of pregabalin carries a more severe punishment.
Why Gabapentin Street Use is a Problem
The drug, which goes by the common street names “Morontin”, “Gabbies”, “Johnnies” and “Rotties”, has a long history of being abused. During 2004 alone (a few years after it was popularized in the U.S), a study conducted in a Florida prison reported that 80% of its users had obtained it through illicit means. The prisoners who used the drug stated that it had similar effects to cocaine when it was crushed and snorted. Shortly afterward, the prison and some neighboring institutions banned the drug from being prescribed to inmates.
Outside of the prison system, the drug has grown in popularity for a number of reasons. Although the drug isn’t an opioid itself, many users take it to heighten the effects of opioids like heroin and methadone. One survey, which reported 22% of all respondents reported using the drug, stated that 38% of those respondents used it to enhance the effects of their methadone dose.
Although researchers have yet to understand the exact interaction between gabapentin and opioids, the drug is particularly popular among heroin users. As early as 2011, law enforcement began to find that the drug was used to “cut” batches of heroin. This is likely due to the fact that it heightens the effects of heroin and can be purchased on the black market for relatively low prices. Dealers, therefore, can make a larger profit by selling smaller quantities of dope.
What is the Street Value of Neurontin?
On the street, “Johnnies” go for a pretty low cost. Prescriptions are relatively easy to obtain and therefore addicts can sell or trade them for more potent drugs.
Prescribed doses cost as little as 75 cents per 300 mg pill, with insurance covering the bulk of the cost. Both users and dealers can buy the drug off of people who hold prescriptions for as low as $1.00 per 100 mg. A 300 mg dose, therefore, which is enough to get a teenager high if they’ve never used it before, can be purchased for less than a candy bar and a soda.
Is It Prescribed Irresponsibly?
Since the early days of gabapentin, it has been a huge money-maker for pharmaceutical companies. In 2001 along, more than $1.5 billion worth of the drug was sold. Its manufacturer later acknowledged that a large portion of the profits resulted from the drug being prescribed for unauthorized usages.
Although the drug was authorized to treat pain caused by nerve damage, the manufacturer promoted the drug as a treatment for several off-label conditions. Some of the conditions that the manufacturer claimed it could treat include:
- Migraine headaches
- Attention deficit disorder
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Bipolar disorder
There is very little evidence that the drug is effective in treating some of the illness listed above. Some researchers agree that the drug is often prescribed for conditions in which another, less addictive drug would be a more suitable form of treatment. However, the drug remains widely prescribed despite presenting a cause for concern. As of 2016, it remained among the 10 most commonly prescribed medications in the country.
Gabapentin Abuse Side Effects
When used responsibly and under the supervision of a doctor, Neurontin and other similar substances are generally safe. However, there are a few risks of abusing gabapentin. These risks include:
Disturbed pregnancy: Pregnant women are advised against taking any anti-epileptic medications without consulting a doctor first. The drug should never be used (not to mention abused) by anyone who is carrying a child.
Hypoventilation: Drugs like Neurontin that slow down the central nervous system are a danger to your respiratory system. When it’s abused, this drug can trigger your respiratory system to slow down to an unsafe level.
Respiratory failure: In the worst-case scenario, abusing the drug can cause your lungs to shut down entirely. An overdose occurs when you take so much of a substance that your respiratory system stops functioning completely.
A High Risk of Overdose
By itself, Neurontin is not known as a common cause of overdoses. Or, to be more specific, overdosing on the drug alone requires a very high dose and usually won’t result in death. There have been cases of people dying from taking too much, but the majority of people who do so will most likely get sick, experience diarrhea and become very sleepy for a few days.
The real risk of overdosing starts when you mix it with other substances. Mixing it with opiates or alcohol is particularly dangerous.
Mixing with Alcohol: Not Recommended
It’s never smart to mix prescription drugs and alcohol. Drinking alcohol while you have gabapentin in your system, however, is something we strongly advise against doing.. If you consume either of the substances before the other has exited your system, each drug will “potentiate” one another. This means that the effects of both will be increased by the other drug.
The potentiation factor makes these two substances a popular cocktail for drug abusers. It’s important to note, though, that the mixture can put you in the hospital. You can end up losing control of your motor skills, blacking out and experiencing a nasty case of alcohol poisoning if you take too much of either drug.
Mixing Neurontin with Opiates: A Serious Risk of Overdose
The combination of opiates with gabapentin can be a fatal mixture. Because both substances sedate the central nervous system, users who mix the two drugs increase their risk of overdosing. Once the central nervous system slows down to a certain level, the respiratory system will start to shut down and the user’s heart may stop functioning properly.
As we’ve pointed out above, many addicts who died in opiate-related overdoses showed traces of the drug in their system. A study conducted in Ontario, Canada reported that 6.8% of all opiate overdoses in the region involved Neurontin or another similar drug.
In most of these cases, the addict had been prescribed the drug for one reason or another. This study, therefore, does not account for the users who had consumed it unknowingly.
Signs and Symptoms of Neurontin Addiction
Is someone you love abusing or addicted to gabapentin? You may want to look for the following signs:
- Seeing multiple doctors at one time
- Switching doctors on a regular basis
- Spending too much money on medication
- Lying about the severity of their condition
- Hanging out with drug users
- Talking about the drug often
- Inability to quit using it
Ultimately, if the individual has increased their dosage over time and is unable to get out of bed in the morning without using it, they may have an addiction on their hands. Of course, if they suffer from epilepsy or another neurological condition, it is possible that they depend on the drug to function. Before confronting anyone about a possible Neurontin addiction, consider all of the circumstances and use your best judgment about how to approach them.
Are you currently struggling with a Neurontin addiction? Take our free online drug addiction quiz if you aren’t sure.
Is Gabapentin Going to Be a Controlled Substance?
Currently, the drug is not scheduled as a controlled substance by the federal government. Essentially, this means that the drug does not carry a high enough risk of abuse to be punishable by federal law. In this sense, the drug is different from pregabalin (Lyrica), which is classified as a Schedule 5 drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Schedule V drugs are drugs that serve a medicinal purpose but carry a low risk of chemical dependence.
In an effort to limit the number of overdoses the drug is responsible for, however, some states are taking steps to limit its prescription rates. Kentucky deemed it a controlled substance last year. Ohio is making efforts to follow suit. The state, which has seen a huge rise in recreational use of the drug, now requires all doctors to report their prescriptions.
Other states, like West Virginia, are combating the rise in related deaths by pushing for regulations. Whether or not the federal government will follow in step is yet to be seen. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Help! I’m Addicted to Gabapentin
Whether you’re abusing prescriptions or buying Neurontin illegally to supplement an opioid habit, this drug can be dangerous. As illustrated above, it carries a high risk of chemical dependency and overdose, particularly when used in combination with heroin, prescription opioids or alcohol.
If you or someone you love is currently struggling with an addiction to the drug, it may be time to reach out for help. The withdrawal symptoms of Neurontin can be quite uncomfortable, so you may need to detox in a professional addiction treatment center.
Fortunately, facilities like AspenRidge Recovery can offer you support as your withdraw and rehabilitate from your addiction. Our staff of medical professionals and addiction specialists will work to limit your withdrawal symptoms and help you move on to a happier, healthier lifestyle.