Illicit Use of Gabapentin.
In Matthew Perrone’s Associated Press article, “Drug epidemic ensnares 25-year-old pill for nerve pain”, dated May 4, 2018, the author sheds light on the growing illicit use of gabapentin as the newest means of getting high. Gabapentin (GAB), marketed under the brand name Neurontin, is an anticonvulsant medication used to treat epilepsy and neuropathic pain in adults. Although a non-narcotic medication thought to have a low abuse profile, gabapentin is increasing in its illicit use.
In the last year some areas of the country have reported increased illicit use of gabapentin by addicts who are mixing the drug with opioids, marijuana and other drugs to intensify their high. Ohio has reported the use of gabapentin by addicts to ease withdrawal symptoms, as well as those on methadone to amplify the effects of methadone. Users say it intensifies the methadone, and gives a semi-euphoric feeling. Gabapentin was the most-prescribed drug of any controlled substance in the state of Ohio in December 2016 and was the 9th most-prescribed drug last year in the entire United States.
Researchers cited in his article attribute the tighter prescription restrictions on opioid painkillers as one of the reasons for the spike in gabapentin use. Dr. Richard Dart was quoted in the article as saying, “We’re basically squeezing people into other drugs because the prescription opioids are becoming a lot harder to get”.
New Urgency in the Drug War
In the wake of this research and awareness there seems to be an urgency to act not previously seen. One would speculate there were vital lessons learned from the devastations of the opioid crisis. State drug agencies and governments appear to be getting out in front of the trend much quicker. For example, Kentucky has already acted to classify the drug as a scheduled drug, limiting who can prescribe gabapentin and the number of allowable refills. Ohio, Minnesota, West Virginia and other states have already started tracking gabapentin use in prescription databases.
The drug testing industry has responded with technology to test subjects, making available an instant gabapentin urine dip test available for Forensic use. “Forensic-use” means the drug test kits are not FDA 510(k) cleared for professional use. This Forensic use only test provides qualitative preliminary results, which indicates the presumptive presence of the drug in someone’s system. Forensic use only tests are intended for court-ordered abstinence or monitoring programs. Professionals who are overseeing the administration of methadone as a means of weaning the individuals off of heroin may want to add testing for gabapentin as means of ensuring the subject isn’t also using gabapentin to get high off the methadone.
In the drug and alcohol testing industry, we must continually be made aware and respond to the changes of illicit drug use.