Drug that tops Virginia's watch list is not an opioid - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

Drug that tops Virginia's watch list is not an opioid

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

It's not an opioid, but of all the drugs on Virginia's watch list, it is the most prescribed. 

Gabapentin - known as "Johnny's" on the street - is often used to treat seizures and nerve pain. It's sold under the brand name Neurontin.

Gabapentin is touted as a safe alternative to other painkillers by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Virginia health officials are now finding this drug is starting to show up in toxicology reports for patients overdosing and dying from opioids.

"There's a lot of people that have neuropathy and fibromyalgia and being used for several indications and not only for human patients. Gabapentin’s used for veterinarian patients,” said Dr. Ralph Orr.


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The state started tracking Gabapentin prescriptions last July and it quickly shot to the top of the chart - in the third quarter of 2017 it was the most prescribed drug that Virginia tracks.

"In the second half of 2017 almost half a million prescriptions for Gabapentin were reported to the PMP,” said Orr.

PMP is the Prescription Monitoring Program, which is run by Orr. 

The program collects data on certain drugs like painkillers and sedatives.

Coming off a year with new and stronger emergency regulations to take on the deadly opioid crisis, pain reliever prescriptions are actually on the decline in Virginia with doses dropping by 45 percent last year.

However, sales of Gabapentin are soaring - nationwide there's been a 49 percent increase in just five years. 

"There is a lot of talk and there's actually articles and studies out that say that there is a synergistic effect when someone takes an opioid and Gabapentin. It elevates the high or the mood that is achieved," said Orr.

The headlines across the country raising concern are growing. A ground breaking study was just announced to find out if the drug itself can be addictive.

Pfizer, one of two manufacturers of Gabapentin contacted for this story said, "Gabapentin is an important treatment option for their approved indications."

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