Local doctors report abuse of gabapentin is a problem - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Local doctors report abuse of gabapentin is a problem in Mahoning Valley

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A drug used to treat epilepsy and specific nerve pain called gabapentin has started showing up in police reports in the Valley.

Earlier this month, an Austintown woman was arrested after being found with cocaine and this prescription drug in her purse.

Local doctors who treat those battling addiction say abuse of gabapentin is a problem here.

"I find it abused often and frequently," said Dr. Joseph Sitarik of Neil Kennedy Recovery Center.

Gabapentin, a prescription approved to treat seizures and nerve pain from shingles, has a different reputation on the street to increase the effect of opioids. 

"It potentiates the high of an opiate and also increases the overdose rate," explained Sitarik.

"One of the big uses for it is opiate withdrawal syndrome. In other words, patients that cant get heroin, can't get opiates will use that to ease their fall, so to speak, to ease their withdrawal symptoms," Sitarik said.

Prescriptions of the drug have gone up by 25 million in four years, according to data from an article in the New England Journal of Medicine last year. 

The authors cite the reason, could be in part, from doctors prescribing it as an opioid alternative for "almost any type of pain."

The FDA is now investigating.
Dr. Daniel Brown of Meridian HealthCare said, "I think with physicians turning from over-prescribing opiates to trying to reduce their prescriptions of opiates, they're trying to look at other medications they can use for pain and we're finding that this medication as it was being used to treat pain is now being abused."

A few states are monitoring prescriptions of gabapentin. Ohio is one of those states, Pennsylvania is not. 

"That database is accessed by any pharmacist or any doctor or nurse practitioner across the state so you can see exactly which doctor wrote it, how many it was for, what the strength of it was, and which pharmacy it got filled at in the state," said Anthony Fuller, a pharmacist at the Struthers Hometown Pharmacy.

An effort to prevent doctor shopping for a prescription with specific medical uses but under scrutiny for its potential for abuse.

Dr. Brown said an issue in treatment is that this drug is not easily tested on a drug test, specific testing has to be done and it is expensive to find it.

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