Gabapentin Abuse in Patients on Opioid Pain Medications

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Gabapentin taken in conjunction with other CNS depressants can have adverse effects.
Gabapentin taken in conjunction with other CNS depressants can have adverse effects.

New research has uncovered a troubling trend of gabapentin abuse among patients who are also using opioid pain medications.1

The results of the study, which were presented at the 68th annual American Association for Clinical Chemistry Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo in Philadephia, are especially troubling, as physicians don't often screen for gabapentin abuse since it shows little risk of abuse or addiction when taken alone. However, when taken in conjunction with opioids, muscle relaxants, or anxiety medications, use of gabapentin may perpetuate a user's “high.”

To examine the prevalence of this apparent trend, researchers at ARIA Diagnostics in Indianapolis, Indiana, conducted urine screens on 323 patients over a 5-month period. The urine screen tested for opiate/opiods, drugs of abuse, gabapentin, pregabalin, and other substances.

Screening results indicated that 240 (74.3%) were compliant with their prescribed treatment regimens, meaning they screened positive for prescribed drugs and negative for non-prescribed drugs. Thirteen patients (4%) were considered non-compliant for screening negative for prescribed gabapentin. In all, 70 patients (21.6%) screened positive for non-prescribed gabapentin.

Among those who screened positive for non-prescribed gabapentin, 66 were prescribed other drugs, including opiate/opioid (55.7%), opiate/opioid and cyclobenzprine (8.57%), opiate/opioid and benzodiazepines (18.57%), and other substances (8.57%). The researchers noted that 4 patients who were not on a prescribed treatment regimen screened positive for gabapentin as well as other substances.

“While gabapentin is relatively safe and has a low potential for serious adverse effects, even in large doses, negative effects may occur when concomitant use with other CNS depressants occurs,” the authors concluded, stressing the importance of the addition of gabapentin screening in patients prescribed other CNS-acting drugs.

Reference

  1. Quigley K, Adhlakha V, Reddy P, Miller A. Prevalence of Gabapentin Abuse Among Clinical Patients. Presented at: AACC Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo. July 31- August 4, 2016; Philadephia. Abstract B-324.
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