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One facet of addiction treatment is the utilization of certain medicines to help the early recovery process along, typically drugs that lack the potential for abuse. Often times prescription drugs are used “off label” (in unapproved ways) to help with depression, anxiety and/or insomnia. If you are in treatment for drug or alcohol abuse, it doesn’t make sense to give a client drugs which carry the potential for abuse, even if they are effective.

Doctors who work at addiction treatment centers will typically try to avoid anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax or sleep medications like Ambien. If a client is exhibiting signs of insomnia or anxiety, they will often be prescribed a drug like Seroquel, an anti-psychotic; while effective, it does not have a euphoric effect that could eventually lead to abuse. If a patient is having pain and/or anxiety, a doctor may prescribe Neurontin (gabapentin)—a seizure medication that has been found to be effective in treating nerve pain and poses little risk for abuse or addiction. Using drugs off label can be a valuable method for skirting the use of medications with the potential for abuse.

Interestingly, new research suggests that many patients being seen at pain clinics are using gabapentin without a prescription, HealthDay reports. In fact, of 323 patients who were prescribed opioid pain medications, 20 percent were found to have the anti-seizure drug in their system. The findings were presented at the American Association for Clinical Chemistry’s (AACC) annual meeting in Philadelphia.

So, if gabapentin poses little risk of abuse and addiction, why would patients be seeking out the drug? The researchers point out that when gabapentin is mixed with opioids, it actually increases the euphoric effects of the painkillers, according to the article. Gabapentin will also increase effects of:

  • Anxiety medications
  • Muscle Relaxants
  • Opioids

“The high rate of misuse of this medication is surprising and it is also a wakeup call for prescribers,” said study author Poluru Reddy, in a news release. “Doctors don’t usually screen for gabapentin abuse when making sure patients are taking medications, such as opioids, as prescribed. These findings reveal that there is a growing risk of abuse and a need for more robust testing.”