Gabapentin was introduced in 1993 and marketed as the brand name Neurontin to control epileptic seizures as well as to help control nerve pain due to nerve damage. It is an ideal drug for nerve pain, first as a primary drug and also as an additive drug to enhance the pain-relieving effects of opiates for chronic nerve pain. It has low abuse potential on its own, although it does produce withdrawal symptoms if dosing is suddenly discontinued.
This characteristic of withdrawal indicates that the drug has important aspects of physical addiction. It also hints that it was destined at some point to become a target of abuse. Therefore, gabapentin might be an excellent drug to incorporate into a future plot when a subtle addictive drug might be needed. Although not lethal in itself, it can easily be disruptive to normal living and clear thinking.
In 2004, the drug became available as a generic version and, by then, was prescribed more widely for off-label uses that included restless leg syndrome and hot flashes. It also was used to minimize the nerve pain and restless leg effects of withdrawal from opiates and to prevent the seizures and convulsions common with withdrawal from alcohol and benzodiazepines.
More recently, gabapentin has become a common street drug to enhance the high of illicit opiates, and is often used to cut heroin to increase its euphoric effects.
Prison inmates who are prescribed gabapentin to treat various addiction withdrawal symptoms report that oral use produces a calming effect and relaxes inhibitions much like marijuana. Inmates often sell their prescription supply to other inmates who crush the pills to snort them, producing what is described as a similar high to that of cocaine.
As a street drug, gabapentin is known as “morontin” and “gabbies” and the recreational use of this prescription drug is increasing on an international scale. Domestically, prescribed gabapentin is on the rise due to its effectiveness in treating nerve pain, but it has been increasingly diverted for illicit use. In December of 2016, the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy found that gabapentin was the number one most prescribed medication, even surpassing the highly prescribed oxycodone.
The most common symptoms of overuse include dizziness, drowsiness, mental confusion, speech difficulties, double vision and loss of coordination.
Gabapentin is considered an unrestricted drug, meaning that it has no controlled designation by the DEA for prescribing standards. This fact, and the need for the large dosing to control nerve pain such as back pain, makes this drug more available for diversion to be sold on the black market. I suspect that at some point in the future gabapentin will be a more highly controlled drug; and, if current abuse trends continue to escalate, this drug could likely become the next opiate-crisis type of drug.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!