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Gabapentin Abuse and the Fear of Losing Access to Medication

The glutton for punishment that I am, I had the news on over the weekend when a potentially disturbing story (ok, one of many disturbing pieces) came on. Crammed in the middle of exhaustive hurricane and political coverage was a short piece on the rise of Gabapentin abuse. Gabapentin, also known as Neurontin, is a pretty important medication for the MS community. While I no longer take Gabapentin, I worry for the many that do, as it is yet one more drug they may soon have to jump through hoops to get.

Many in the MS community rely on it

Gabapentin has a lot of uses: it’s used to treat everything from seizures to insomnia to nerve pain. For those suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, it’s often prescribed to treat the awful nerve pain that so many of us suffer from. Gabapentin has become a popular medication to treat nerve pain, not only because of its effectiveness, but because it is not an opioid. Non-opioids have considerably less risk of lethal overdose and addiction than opioids like oxycodone (such as OxyContin and Percocet). While it sadly did not help my pain, I know many in the MS community that rely on it. It’s a life-changing drug for them, a way to experience life without searing nerve pain coursing through their bodies.

A concern for abuse

Gabapentin is widely prescribed (as I mentioned, it’s used for much more than MS pain), and that seems to be one of the reasons why there is a concern for abuse. It is not classified as a controlled substance, so it is not illegal for non-prescription owners to possess it, and its sale is not as monitored. This ease of access has allowed those already addicted to other substances to experiment with it. That experimentation has apparently led some to discover that taking Gabapentin with their normal drug of choice can help increase the feelings of euphoria that they get. This is all fairly new, and as of now, from what I’ve read, it doesn’t sound like people are really abusing Gabapentin by itself. The primary abuse is to help increase the effects of another drug they are addicted to. As I said, one of the primary reasons for the popularity of Gabapentin is that there is less chance of addiction.

An ease of access problem

So if it’s mostly those that already suffer from addiction who are abusing it, why am I concerned? For me, it’s an ease of access problem. When we attempt to minimize access to a medication, that may help those with addiction problems, but it can also cut it off from those that desperately need it. In my opinion, making access harder doesn’t stop someone driven by addiction from acquiring it. Addiction is absolutely awful and it causes people to do terrible things that they normally wouldn’t do. It can also make them very resourceful. Again, in my opinion, I worry that those battling with addiction will still get what they are looking for, and those that this medication benefits will not.

Access to medication

One of the medications I rely on daily is Provigil (also known as modafinil). It is used to fight (but not erase) my crippling fatigue, and it is classified as a controlled substance. I have at times had trouble getting this prescription filled, having someone else getting it filled for me, and I’ve even had trouble going to another pharmacy to get it filled when my usual one ran out. I admit, I often have moments when I feel like Provigil doesn’t do anything for me. That is, until I don’t have access to it, then it’s clear that it’s helpful. Getting medication can already be hard for MS patients. Let’s remember, this disease can cause cognitive problems, and it can cause mobility issues. For many reasons related to MS, I can’t drive, so it’s already tough to get prescriptions. When something is already somewhat hard to obtain, those suffering from anxiety and depression, as is common with MS, become much less inclined to put up a fight for getting what they need. In my case, my roommate helps me a lot. I know there are times where I’d just say, “forget it” when it comes to getting what I need if she weren’t there. That’s a very real issue and even the smallest of roadblocks can affect our ability to get what we need to be healthy.

Additional restrictions can be harmful

So while Gabapentin is not yet classified a controlled substance, I hope smarter heads will prevail and realize that putting additional restrictions on medications is harmful. Addiction is a big problem in this country, but limiting access to medication doesn’t seem to me like a good way to stop it, particularly when there are already so many illegal means of obtaining controlled substances. It would only harm those that desperately need their medicine.

Thanks for reading!

Devin

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • AlanG
    2 months ago

    Devin, I’m glad you have an advocate to help when the “forget it” curse hits. Any gaps in your pain treatment regime can be just awful. I am twenty years into getting the MS pain bearable: gabapentin, tramadol, meloxicam, and duloxetine all have their roles in my pain management program. I am blessed to have a neurologist that hears me when I describe (at length) my pain.

  • asapcynthia
    1 month ago

    As part of my Medicare Advantage plan I have a counseling session once a week via Skype. I got three names that are in their network and the first two I called were so negative, kinda like everybody’s stressed out and we have no room for you, and the third I feel like I struck gold. I try not to use its as a b***h session, i.e, my husband gives my ms no respect, and the only time my kids call is when they want money. I spent the last year having my mom stay with me, and I kinda just wanted a year off to cut through all the BS, and now that we put her in a memory care unit I guess I’m pretty lonely. I jettisoned all the BS and now I realized that there really nothing left. I don’t drive anymore which leaves me dependent on anyone available for a ride. I know MS and lift have an arrangement, but I don’t meet the requirements because I need help getting my leg in the car ( you are supposed to be able to get/out independently or have a helper, and if I had a helper I wouldn’t need LYFT) I really don’t like this version of myself. She is trying to motivate me out of this funk. I’m supposed to try to reconnect with my friends, but they work all week and on weekends they are busy being active doing things I can’t do. My husband is the same way. He doesn’t want to do anything during the week, and on weekends he likes to ‘rest’. Each week I get three action items, like make a phone call, do my exercises, figure out transportation, stuff like that. So I believe it’s key to talk to professional therapist, to get things on the table and figure things out. It took my husband 25 years to put a grab bar by the door so I don’t expect much out of him. It’s like a donkey hoping to win the Kentucky Derby. I have to learn to accept him as he is. I just have to learn what my reality is really like so like everything MS I can modify it. If you have the means to talk to someone I highly recommend it.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 months ago

    Thank you @AlanG, having a competent doctor that understands that pain is a real issue is so very important, glad you have one as well!

  • Mizmikey
    3 months ago

    I’m going to a new FP doc and NO one in their practice, or anyone else that she knows of, prescribes pain pills monthly. No one else in this city does it except my old doc. What else can a person do? Only for acute pain, not chronic. I can’t believe that we have to be in such God-awful pain and no body cares….

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 months ago

    Thank you @Mizmikey, it’s a tough situation many people are in these days. Hang in there!

  • Mizmikey
    3 months ago

    I wish I didn’t need the drugs I have to take. I need Adderall twice a day otherwise I sleep for hours. Also I NEED something for pain. I wish I didn’t. God knows that I HATE to take any of these drugs but my quality of life depends on the drugs available. I have so much nerve pain and even the Vicodin doesn’t always work. I really hate living like this.☹️

  • kandis
    2 months ago

    I can appreciate where you’re coming from. It really does suck, but I know you can. You are amazing.

  • chong61
    4 months ago

    Devin,
    I often think the reason they put restrictions on a medicine means after the battle is over and the dust settles, ta da they can raise the price. I have been on Gabapentin 3 x’s a day for over 10 years. It does not take my pain away, but I have a sneaky feel that without it, my pain might take me away. I can say I have not had one day in those 10 years that has been pain free. I feel without Gabapentin it might be worse.

  • mseverchanging
    4 months ago

    Devin, can relate with the merge of pharmacies buying drug companies, being bought out by corporate companies. A simple one for me went from 90 mg monthly to 30 mg monthly. That’s 1 gram of oil to use daily, and not enough. Same company..now needs PA.

  • Toledo34287
    4 months ago

    I agree. I too take tramadol and as usual I’ll be out before I can get it renewed.

    I also take alprazolam (xanax) and my psychiatrist has an attitude about it. She looks at me like I’m an addict, I guess I am but not the kind that she thinks I am. Her attitude makes me feel like I need to tell her what I think; or find a new doc. But then I’m doctor shopping and I’ll have another flag on the books against. Soooooo frustrated

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    4 months ago

    Thanks so much @Toledo34287. We are certainly living in a time where taking medication, for some reason, is vilified. It’s a terrible stigma.

  • vvxjr9
    4 months ago

    Wow, this is news to me. I haven’t heard a thing about Gabapentin abuse. I take a lot of Gabapentins and Tramadol to help with my pain. I have the pain from MS, but I also have the pain from spinal scoliosis and spinal stenosis. I have already had two spinal surgeries and don’t particularly want more surgery, which is what my neurologist thinks would help me with the pain. I don’t like surgeries and hospitals.

  • LisaP
    5 months ago

    I rely on Gabepentain everyday for my MS pain! I also take Keppra for pain & spasticity.
    I wouldn’t be able to function at all without these meds!

  • Shelby Comito moderator
    5 months ago

    I’m so glad you’ve found something that helps with your pain management, @LisaP! Thanks so much for sharing. – Shelby, MultipleSclerosis.net Team Member

  • Toledo34287
    2 years ago

    Boy I hear ya Devin. The part that bothers me is the controlled substances we are on, as prescribed by our doctors, are becoming increasingly more difficult to get. The “oxy” epidemic makes it harder for the people who actually need and use the drugs as prescribed.

    I take TrAmadol for lumbar pain due to herniations. On top of MS I have pain. Once I actually lost the bottle, moving day confusion, and my doc could not and would not give me anything to get me to my next refill date. Needless to say;, the week was spent in bed afraid to move.

    It was horrible!

    No wonder MSers have our own little black narkets. We can’t always get the help we’re really ,legally, and actually in need of.

  • vvxjr9
    4 months ago

    Hi Toledo34287 – I wish I could get one of those “oxy” drugs. I can only get Gabapentin and Tramadol which I take a lot during the day. I have the MS pain, but also spinal scoliosis and spinal stenosis which is making my back hurt really bad.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you Toledo34287! It is most certainly getting harder and harder for people to get the medications they rely on. It’s hardly fair and I think people are losing site of this issue.

  • Nancy W
    2 years ago

    Hi, Devin, I take Gabapentin and provigil. I realized recently how much the GABA helps me. I stopped it for awhile and started it up again because of (excuse the TMI) genital itching. I hardly believe it but it did work. Then I had a chronic cough and my neuro increased the dose to twice a day to see if it would help with that. Seems my cough is partly relayed to hyper reflexes. Then my psychiatrist said I should try taking it 3 times a day for my mood. Then I got a mild case of shingles. People were amazed that I was not in more pain from that. My PCP said it could be because I am already taking GABA, which is sometimes prescribed for shingles pain. Go figure. Miracle drug for me.

  • vvxjr9
    4 months ago

    Nancy W – my you have had your share of health problems recently. Sorry to hear about it. I notice that you see a psychiatrist. My neurologist and PCP have suggested that I need to see a psycologist. I’ve been putting that off. Does talking to the psychiatirst help you? I’m kinda scared of going.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you Nancy W! So glad to hear it works so well for you! It can be a hit or miss drug for many people. For those that it works for, it tends to work really well. The way you are with that, is the way I am with Provigil, I have at times felt like it didn’t do anything, would ween myself off and then realize that it really did make a considerable impact!

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