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!