There’s no hiding from it, the opioid crisis is making headlines the world over. At the same time, non-prescribed gabapentin use rose 40% in one year (2017 to 2018) resulting in what’s called the Gabapentin high and it being the most commonly misused drug in over 11 states.
But, why has this boom in Gabapentin happened?
Gabapentin commonly goes by the brand name “Neurontin” and is the fifth most prescribed drug in the United States.
There are many reasons for the surge in gabapentin misuse, including the intensive STEPS marketing done in the 90s (more about this later) and the fact that it is not currently classified as a controlled substance in many states.
When Neurontin (gabapentin) is combined with other drugs, like anxiety medications or opioids, there can be an enhanced gabapentin high, which could possibly be deadly.
Is the Gabapentin High Dangerous and What is Neurontin Used For?
Neurontin was approved for use by the FDA in 1993 and originally prescribed for patients suffering from epileptic seizures and shingles pain.
There are Three Main Brand Names for Neurontin:
Although the FDA has only approved Neurontin for seizures and neuropathic pain like restless leg syndrome, it’s often prescribed for other conditions like migraines, chronic pain, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. This is considered “off-label prescription use”.
Sadly gabapentin is increasingly found in fatal opioid overdoses. One of the main reasons for this is that dealers have been cutting other drugs with it because Neurontin enhances their properties and makes users feel a stronger high.
Clinical Trial Study of Neurontin (Gabapentin)
The official clinical trial study of Neurontin is called STEPS – “Study of Neurontin: Titrate to Effect, Profile of Safety.” All of the documents pertaining to this study (from 1990 to 2009) have been reviewed by researchers to assess the manufacturer’s (Pfizer’s) marketing tactics.
The clinical trial, known as a “seeding trial,” was created to promote Neurontin. Seeding trials can be deceptive and run by marketing companies rather than scientists.
The STEPS Clinical Trial was not a scientific study, it was simply a marketing effort carried out by Parke-Davis on behalf of Pfizer.
Despite several of the trials not finding any significant pain relief in those consuming Neurontin, this evidence was hidden.
In 1996, biologist David Franklin quit working for Parke-Davis, the company that was funding the fake clinical trials. He then sued the company and they had to pay out $420 million in fines.
Despite all of this, the off-label prescription of gabapentin continues.
Neurontin’s Off-Label Marketing Success
Parke-Davis was responsible for spreading the misguided belief that gabapentin can be used for widespread pain and other chronic diseases. This has resulted in many practitioners prescribing Neurontin for unapproved uses. By 2001, 83% of gabapentin prescriptions were for non-seizure conditions.
Gabapentin is often used as an alternative to opioid therapy. Other off-label uses include being used as a treatment for migraine, fibromyalgia, mental illness, insomnia, and substance dependence.
One thing is for sure, Neurontin is not as benign as previously thought and should be diligently researched for its efficacy as a treatment for any off-label illness.
What is the Drug Schedule Classification of Gabapentin?
The rules surrounding gabapentin are slowly beginning to tighten, in light of gabapentin-related deaths.
Neurontin has been found in as many as one-third of all overdoses in the U.S.
Early in 2019, we saw gabapentin being classified as a Schedule 5 controlled substance in two states – Michigan and Kentucky – changing its position as a non-addictive drug, to a mildly addictive one.
One of the main drivers for this decision is the fact that Neurontin can be harmful when combined with higher schedule drugs like heroin and cocaine.
The Serious Side Effects of Gabapentin
Taken alone, or in low doses, gabapentin doesn’t often produce serious side effects. Hence the previous belief that it’s safe and non-addictive.
Gabapentin is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, and when combined with other CNS depressants, for example, tranquilizers or sedatives, the results can be deadly.
Any side effects of taking Neurontin are normally mild and experienced when increasing the dose or first beginning treatment.
Commonly Reported Side Effects of Gabapentin Include:
- Muscle tremor
Less Common Neurontin Side Effects Include:
- Vision disturbances
- Weight gain
- Leg swelling
- Memory loss
- Mood changes
It’s not advisable to take Neurontin and drink alcohol, because it could cause the feeling of extreme drowsiness.
Various herbs and medicines also negatively interact with Neurontin, and therefore careful consideration should be taken when deciding if it’s an appropriate treatment.
If a person suddenly stops taking Neurontin, it can result in serious withdrawal symptoms.
This speaks volumes about its addictive properties, that have only recently been disclosed.
A gradual reduction is required to ward off any withdrawal symptoms.
The Gabapentin Suicide Connection
While there is evidence that Neurontin can help with seizures and shingles, there is little to no evidence that it helps with mental illness.
In fact, researchers have found an increased risk of suicidal behavior when taking gabapentin in people who are prone to mental illness.
There have been many connections made between gabapentin and suicide including a wrongful death lawsuit whereby Neurontin led to the death of a minister.
The Bottom Line
When used as a treatment for epilepsy, restless leg syndrome, or shingles pain, Neurontin can certainly provide relief.
On the other hand, its use for mental illness and other diseases, although common, is not advisable.
Neurontin is cheap and widely available, and when combined with other CNS depressants can be fatal.
Many are turning to gabapentin to enhance their high, and it is sneaking its way into other illegal street drug supplies.
The widespread misuse and addictive properties of Neurontin are worrisome and should not be taken lightly.