A Qualitative Analysis of Gabapentin Misuse and Diversion Among People Who Use Drugs in Appalachian Kentucky

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Abstract

Gabapentin, an anticonvulsant and analgesic for postherpetic neuralgia, has been thought to have no abuse potential despite numerous published reports to the contrary. Gabapentin has been linked with impaired driving and opioid use, highlighting the need to more fully understand its risk profile. Thirty-three individuals reporting recent nonmedical use of gabapentin were recruited from two ongoing longitudinal studies of drug users in Appalachian Kentucky to participate in focus groups. Four sessions were held (two in the community and two in jail settings), during which participants responded to questions regarding their personal experiences with gabapentin misuse. Focus group participants were similar to other gabapentin users in the larger cohort studies with respect to demographics and drug use behaviors. Overall, the sample reported having initiated gabapentin more than 10 years earlier after having it prescribed for a legitimate, though generally off-label, medical indication (e.g., pain, anxiety, opioid detoxification). Participants reported use of gabapentin in combination with buprenorphine, other opioids, cocaine, and caffeine to produce sought-after central nervous system effects (e.g., muscle relaxation, pain reduction, sleep induction, feeling drunk, and feeling “high”). Focus group responses highlighted the low cost of gabapentin for the purpose of getting high and noted increasing popularity in the community, particularly over the last 2 years. Gabapentin was a prominent drug of abuse in two cohorts of the primarily opioid-using individuals. Providers should be aware of gabapentin’s abuse potential, and a reexamination of the need for scheduling is warranted.

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