Is Gabapentin a Narcotic?
The question, “Is Gabapentin a narcotic?” is indeed worth asking, given its seeming similarity to such substances.
Let’s first define a narcotic. It is a drug that dulls the senses, alleviates agony, and, in moderate doses, induces deep sleep. However, excessive consumption can lead to lethargy, convulsions, or even coma.
The term often implies an association with opioids, including substances like morphine and heroin or their derivatives, which are found in opium.
When considered in a legal context, the word refers to drugs prohibited or misused against governmental regulations, such as heroin or cocaine. Legal classification of a drug as a one often intensifies penalties for violations of drug control statutes.
It is an anticonvulsant medication, often used in conjunction with other epilepsy medicines to manage partial seizures. For instance, federal law classifies cocaine and amphetamines as “Schedule II” drugs. The penalties for cocaine possession are more severe because cocaine is considered to be one.
Approved for Neuropathic Pain
It later received approval for treating neuropathic pain, intense sensations such as tingling, burning, aching, and stabbing that can persist following a bout of shingles, a viral infection causing a painful and sensitive rash.
The practice of off-label usage, prescribing a medication for conditions other than those for which it is approved, is not technically illegal but has come under scrutiny regarding this drug. In the ’90s, a few uncontrolled studies led Pfizer, the drug manufacturer, to claim that Neurontin (the brand name) could potentially treat bipolar disorder, contrary to available data. As Reuters reported, Pfizer ended up paying $325 million in fines after a court ruled that promoting Neurontin for unapproved uses was technically illegal.
This medication is currently used off-label for conditions such as:
- Hot flashes
- Restless leg syndrome
- Other conditions associated with neuropathic pain
Gabapentin is Not a Narcotic
Medical terminology is more precisely defined and usually lacks the negative connotations it carries in legal contexts. This medicine, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1993, is not like oxycontin, oxycodone, or Vicodin. The Chicago-based American Pain Society (APS), which specializes in pain-related conditions, recommends it for some post-surgical situations, suggesting it can reduce the amount of needed opioids after certain surgeries.
Since they work by binding to receptors in the brain to block the sensation of discomfort, Gabapentin technically does not meet this criterion. Hence, it is not classified as such. For reference, here are some examples:
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the federal agency responsible for maintaining the list of Schedule I, II, and III type drugs, does not classify it as a controlled substance. While this suggests the drug is not habit-forming and poses a minimal risk of abuse and addiction, there is controversy surrounding its off-label or non-medical use.
According to one report, prescriptions rose by 42 percent to 57 million in just four years, from 2011 to 2015. Critics argue that this medicine exhibits characteristics similar to various addictive substances, especially when combined with opioids, muscle relaxers, and anti-anxiety medicine. Such mixtures can create a euphoria-like high, potentially leading to addiction. Moreover, higher doses are known to induce withdrawal symptoms when treatment is halted.
It can induce several unpleasant side effects, including but not limited to:
- Fatigue and drowsiness
- Hair loss
- Involuntary eye movement
- Loss of coordination and jerky movements
- Sexual dysfunction (including loss of libido, inability to reach orgasm, or erectile dysfunction)
Misusing this medication to achieve a high comes with serious risks and should be avoided. Research from the National Institutes of Health underscores this concern as more cases of abuse come to light.
The agency notes in one study that misuse of this medicine poses an increasing threat. Rising levels of prescriptions and related fatalities, along with an anecdotally growing black market, have been reported in several countries.