Investigation into new avenue of RX abuse

(Source: KAIT-TV)
(Source: KAIT-TV)
Dr. Ben Owens (Source: KAIT-TV)
Dr. Ben Owens (Source: KAIT-TV)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - A common prescription found in many medicine cabinets treats anything from pain to mood disorders.

It can be just what the doctor ordered for some people, but concerns about this drug are growing.

It is called Gabapentin, and for a long time, it was thought to have a low potential for abuse.

However, new research uncovered growing misuse.

Dr. Ben Owens is an Internal Medicine Specialist in Jonesboro who is familiar with Gabapentin.

"It is being abused," Owens said. "But it's not one of the ones we would normally think of as high abuse potential."

Dr. Owens prescribes Gabapentin to some of his patients, and he's not alone.

It is a widely popular medication.

In 2016, there were 64 million prescriptions for Gabapentin in the United States.

That's up 60 percent in just four years.

Experts say the drug has its benefits.

The Food & Drug Administration approved the drug to treat certain seizure disorders and some types of nerve pain.

Some doctors use it to treat insomnia, migraines, and even anxiety.

As its popularity increases so does its black-market value.

"The medication is sedating, so it could be used if you were high to bring you down," Owens said. "The other thing is, in high doses, it can cause euphoria."

Experts say Gabapentin is typically misused by substance abusers who mix it with other drugs.

"Any time you have more than one medication, you're going to have an interaction between those two drugs, possibly making the levels of those higher," Owens said.

Research is starting to show the problem of abuse is clear.

A recent New England Journal of Medicine letter warns doctors who are desperate for alternatives to opioids are increasingly prescribing gabapentin.

Evidence suggests that some patients are misusing or abusing it.

"If it's harder to get the drugs that are traditionally abused, you may go to other alternatives," Owens said. "So, we may see that as a byproduct of our attempts to control other medications."

Gabapentin is not a controlled substance or scheduled drug, so exact data on potential abuse isn't widely available.

But the Drug Enforcement Administration said it is beginning to receive calls.

"I suspect that might be the reason why this one is starting to be abused more," Owens said. "Because the access to others is harder."

Experts do want you to know that Gabapentin is not the next opioid epidemic, but the abuse is something to watch closely.

They stress more research is needed.

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