“I think that some individuals may say that they use it to get high, and others may say they use it and get a drowsy effect. So, we’re talking about the euphoria versus sedation, “ says Rachel Vickers Smith, Ph.D.
“We found a nearly 3000 percent increase from 2008 to about 2014 in individuals reporting gabapentin abuse for the purposes of getting high,” she says.
We wanted to see for ourselves, so we searched online. We easily found people talking about taking “Johnnys”, or gabapentin, to get high. There were also threads of people trying to spread awareness about the abuse.
Experts say gabapentin is typically misused by substance abusers who mix it with other drugs.
But, Dr. Insler says it’s also possible for people with legitimate prescriptions to misuse, too.
He says, “If somebody’s taking excessively high doses or needing early refills” or if their mood changes, family members or clinicians should see these signs as red flags.
A growing body of research shows the problem of abuse, especially among substance abusers is clear. But some experts also worry about the number of prescriptions being handed out.
A recent New England Journal of Medicine letter warned that “clinicians who are desperate for alternatives to opioids” are “increasingly prescribing gabapentin” and that “evidence suggests that some patients misuse, abuse or divert gabapentin.”
Dr. Rachel Vickers Smith says, “ I think that’s why it’s really important to get out the message,” about abuse, in general.
Gabapentin is not a controlled substance or scheduled drug on the Federal level.
We reached out to several government agencies. There was little information on potential abuse although the National Institute on Drug Abuse pointed us to existing research and the DEA says it is beginning to receive calls.
Dr. Vickers Smith says, “ I don’t think that gabapentin abuse is on the CDC, DEA’s, NIDA’s radar, in part because we had this opioid epidemic.”
All experts we talked to stress that this is NOT the next opioid epidemic, but they believe gabapentin abuse is something to watch closely and believe more research is needed.
We contacted two of the manufacturers of gabapentin, including Pfizer, which told us, “Gabapentin is an important treatment option for their approved indications”.