Asking is Gabapentin a narcotic is a good question because it sure seems to act like one.
So let’s start with a definition. A narcotic drug can be defined as a drug (such as opium or morphine) that in moderate doses dulls the senses, relieves pain, and induces profound sleep, but in excessive doses can cause lethargy, convulsions or even lead to a coma.
The definition of a narcotic, at least in the U.S., is based on its direct association with a drug being an opiate and opioid. This would include morphine and heroin, as well as derivatives of many of these types of compounds found in opium.
In general, narcotics usually refer to opioid pain relievers. Narcotics are used only for pain that is severe and is not helped by other types of painkillers.
Most often prescribed to adults and children over 3 years old suffering from epilepsy, it is an anticonvulsant medication. It is generally considered a supplemental drug, used in concert with other epilepsy medications, to control partial seizures.
When the term narcotic is used in a legal context, a narcotic drug is simply one that is totally prohibited, or used in violation of governmental regulation, such as heroin or cocaine. Statutory classification of a drug as a narcotic often increases the penalties for violation of drug control statutes.
For example, although federal law classifies both cocaine and amphetamines as “Schedule II” drugs, the penalty for possession of cocaine is greater than the penalty for possession of amphetamines because cocaine is classified as a narcotic.
Approved for Neuropathic Pain
Later, gabapentin received approval for the treatment of neuropathic pain – intense tingling, burning, aches and stabbing sensations – that sometimes continue after a bout of shingles, a viral infection that causes a painful and sensitive rash.
Off-label use, the practice of prescribing the medication for conditions other than those it’s approved for, though not technically illegal, has come under fire where Gabapentin is concerned.
After a few uncontrolled studies in the ’90s, the drug’s manufacturer, Pfizer, claimed that Neurontin, the company’s brand name for Gabapentin, might be useful in treating bipolar disorder despite data showing otherwise. The company, as Reuters reported, paid $325 million in fines after a court ruled the Neurontin was marketed for unapproved uses, which is technically illegal.
Though there are no studies to prove its effectiveness, for other off label prescriptions, such as;
- Hot flashes
- Restless leg syndrome
- Other conditions associated with neuropathic pain
Is Gabapentin a Narcotic?
Therefore, the answer to the question “is Gabapentin a narcotic” is no, Gabapentin is not a narcotic.
In terms of medical terminology, the term narcotic is more precisely defined and generally does not carry the negative connotations as its legal counterpart.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Gabapentin in 1993.
Unlike other pain medications, such as oxycontin, oxycodone and Vicodin, Gabapentin is a non-opioid painkiller.
The Chicago based American Pain Society (APS), an organization that specializes in “pain-related suffering,” recommends the medication in some post-surgical situations. APS suggests there’s evidence that gabapentin can actually reduce the amount of needed opioid painkillers after some surgeries.
Narcotics work by binding to receptors in the brain, which blocks the feeling of pain, so technically it does not meet this criterion, and so Gabapentin is not a narcotic. Here is a list of some drugs which are classified as narcotics;
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the federal agency responsible for maintaining the list of Schedule I, II and III narcotics, does not officially classify Gabapentin as a controlled substance. While this means the drug is not considered habit forming and poses little risk of abuse and addiction, there is controversy surrounding the off-label or non-medical use.
According to one report, 57 million Gabapentin prescriptions were written in 2015, which is a 42 percent increase in a period of only four years.
Critics of Gabapentin’s non-classification argue the drug has similar characteristics to various habit-forming substances. This is especially prevalent when the medication is misused with other drugs, like opioids, muscle relaxers and some anti-anxiety medicine. These mixtures can cause a euphoric-like high, which creates the potential for addiction. Moreover, gabapentin in higher doses is known to create withdrawal once treatment stops.
Side Effects of Gabapentin
Gabapentin can come with several unpleasant side effects. Some of these may include one or more of the following:
- Fatigue and drowsiness
- Hair loss
- Involuntary eye movement, known as “nystagmus”
- Loss of coordination and jerky movements
- Sexual dysfunction (including loss of libido, inability to reach orgasm or erectile dysfunction)
Abuse and Misuse
Misusing gabapentin to get high comes with risks and should be avoided. Research by the National Institutes of Health bears this out as more cases of abuse surface.
In one study, the agency notes that gabapentin is “increasingly being reported as possessing a potential for misuse. In fact, increasing levels of both prescriptions and related fatalities, together with an anecdotally growing black market, have been reported in a range of countries.”
Learn more about Gabapentin abuse.