Ohio has some of the highest rates of opioid abuse and addiction in the United States, and in 2017 saw 4,293 reported drug overdose deaths involving opioids. Drug abuse and addiction are problems that can wreak devastating consequences, and each day that a person continues to grapple with addiction is another day they are at risk for fatal consequences.

Although prescription opioids are some of the most commonly abused drugs in the United States, there are also rising concerns about drugs that are similar and sometimes mixed with opioids. One of these drugs is the anticonvulsant, gabapentin, a prescription medication that is FDA-approved to treat nerve pain and epileptic seizures.

Brand names for gabapentin include:

  • Neurontin
  • Horizant
  • Gralise
  • Gabarone
  • Fanatrex

Gabapentin has yet to be classified as a controlled substance at the federal level, despite its potential for misuse and increasing involvement in fatal opioid overdoses. Individual states, however, have responded to rising gabapentin abuse rates with their own legislative actions.

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As of 2019, states that have reclassified gabapentin as a controlled substance include:

  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • West Virginia
  • Virginia
  • Tennessee

In 2016, Ohio added gabapentin to the list of drugs to be monitored through the state’s prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP). This tracks prescriptions for gabapentin dispensed within the state. However, it has not yet joined the other five states in changing its official classification to reflect its potential for misuse.

As a potentiator for opioids, mixing gabapentin with opioids such as fentanyl or heroin can increase the risk for overdose and life-threatening symptoms. On its own, gabapentin can also lead to addiction and other health concerns.

If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid or gabapentin abuse, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible.

What Is A Controlled Substance?

A controlled substance is a drug that is regulated by federal agencies and can be further classified based on its safety and potential for misuse and dependence. Unlike non-controlled substances, controlled substances have restrictions on how they can be filled and refilled. Controlled substances are also illegal to possess without a prescription.

Prescription medications that are not classified as controlled substances include some drugs to treat infections, insulin, blood pressure medications, antibiotics, and asthma inhalers.

Since its introduction to the drug market, gabapentin has remained a non-controlled substance at the federal level. This makes it an easier prescription to fill compared to addictive drugs such as opioids and benzodiazepines.

States that have passed legislation to classify gabapentin as a controlled substance do so in response to knowledge in recent years of its potential for abuse and addiction. Research on the effects of gabapentin abuse on its own is scarce. The primary danger of gabapentin abuse remains its likelihood to be mixed with opioids and lead to a fatal overdose.

Gabapentin (Neurontin) Abuse And The Opioid Epidemic

Gabapentin is not an opioid but has become known as a drug capable of intensifying opioid effects, resulting in more intense high. Mixing gabapentin with opioids has become an increasing trend among people who abuse drugs like fentanyl or heroin.

Like prescription opioids, gabapentin slows activity in the brain, causing symptoms of drowsiness and sedation. It can also change how the body perceives pain, making it effective for people with chronic neuropathic (nerve) pain.

Unlike opioids, gabapentin does not pose a significant threat for overdose when abused on its own. As a low-cost, non-controlled substance, however, it can be easier for people to get a hold of gabapentin and abuse it for its effects. Gabapentin is also prescribed for several off-label uses, including depression, anxiety, or as an alternative to opioids. This increases its access to a wider range of people, depending on the prescriber.

In 2016, gabapentin was listed by Ohio’s Board of Pharmacy one month as the #1 prescribed medication in the state. This announcement came alongside several news stories reported at the time and since of rising gabapentin abuse rates in Ohio, often related to opioid use.

Dangers Of Gabapentin And Opioids

Gabapentin can intensify the high experienced after taking high doses of depressants like opioids. Not all effects are pleasurable, however. Mixing gabapentin and opioids increases the risk of respiratory depression four-fold. Respiratory depression, which refers to slowed or stopped breathing, is the leading cause of death in fatal opioid overdoses.

In addition to respiratory depression, other side effects from mixing gabapentin and opioids can include:

  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • confusion
  • impaired thinking and judgment
  • increased risk for overdose
  • death

What Are Common Signs Of Gabapentin Abuse?

Ohio’s opioid epidemic has wreaked devastation on individuals and their families throughout the state with thousands affected each year. Gabapentin abuse even further threatens the livelihood of those struggling with or recovering from opioid abuse, despite previous claims of the drug being safe and unlikely to be misused.

If you or someone you know is taking gabapentin with or without a previous history of drug abuse, it is important to monitor for signs of misuse.

Some signs of gabapentin (Neurontin) abuse include:

  • buying gabapentin on the street
  • refilling prescriptions early
  • stealing or taking pills from another person’s gabapentin supply
  • acting ‘zombie-like’
  • spending more time with new people and isolating from others
  • taking gabapentin with other drugs
  • changes in sleep or eating habits

Additional symptoms of gabapentin abuse:

  • frequent dizziness
  • jerky movements
  • poor coordination
  • impaired judgment
  • euphoria
  • muscle tremors
  • memory troubles
  • difficulty speaking

Abusing gabapentin can also lead to dependence in the body. This may result in withdrawal symptoms with reduced or stopped use. Symptoms of gabapentin withdrawal can include insomnia, anxiety, sweating, and pain among others.

If you or someone you know is struggling with gabapentin abuse or addiction, do not attempt to stop taking the drug alone. Withdrawal symptoms can become serious and even life-threatening, especially when a person has been abusing more than one drug.

The safest and most effective option to stop using gabapentin is to seek professional treatment within a drug rehab program.

Find Gabapentin Abuse Treatment For Yourself Or A Loved One

Drug abuse and mental health treatment at Vertava Health Ohio offers a peaceful and welcoming environment for people to overcome their problem and start on a path towards a more hopeful future. Our treatment programs offer a number of evidence-based and holistic treatments to help patients heal from the physical, emotional, and psychological harms of addiction.

The high standard of care offered at Vertava Health Ohio includes:

Vertava Health Ohio offers a safe space for people to find the type of treatment that works best for them as they pursue a sober and more balanced future. If you or a loved one is struggling with gabapentin abuse or addiction, don’t wait to reach out for help.

Contact our dedicated treatment specialists today to learn more about Vertava Health Ohio’s programs for helping patients overcome gabapentin abuse and addiction.