Opioid Addiction in the United States

Despite the campaign against the opioid epidemic in the United States, the affliction continues to be lethal. Over 70,000 citizens perished from overdosage in 2017, which is a 9% increase in fatalities from the prior year 2016.1 As the phenomenon persists, specialists project the rate of overdosing will increase annually unless the nation finds a plausible solution.

However, narcotics are not solely responsible, as the abuse of prescription medication is also a significant factor in cases of drug overdoses. Medical practitioners often attempt to find alternatives to prescribing detrimental opioids, and gabapentin (Neurontin) is one of those substitutions.

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The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved the medicinal use of gabapentin—a non-opioid drug—for seizure patients in 1993 after discovering it could manipulate the neurons of central nervous systems to reduce seizures. To clarify, humans have a central nervous system using neurons (nerve cells) to relay information across their body to register sensations, like pain. Gabapentin is capable of impairing some natural functions of the neurons.2 Thus, when a person suffering from seizures takes the correct dosage of gabapentin, the drug temporary alters his or her neurons, ultimately hindering the information the neurons transmit that cause seizures in the individual. Gabapentin is what researchers would describe as a miraculous medication, not because the chemical compound of gabapentin allows it to influence the role of neurons, but due to the amusing context of researchers themselves not understanding how the process works in depth—they only know the gist of it.3

Sadly, and relatively recently, autopsies in various locations detected traces of gabapentin inside the remains of persons who expired due to overdosing, alas it is not a sheer coincidence either. Studies and surveys alike emphasize drug users are consuming large doses of gabapentin to get high, even mixing gabapentin with opioids (heroin or cocaine) to enhance the effect of the opioid, although the combination is quite dangerous. For instance, gabapentin can reduce a person’s tolerance to heroin, intensifying the artificial blissful feeling one would have after administering heroin to themselves, but also amplifying the risk of overdosing and respiratory failure.4

One state experiencing the dangers of combing gabapentin with other opioids was Kentucky, where authorities discovered a staggering number of deceased individuals from heroin overdoses also had gabapentin in their systems. Not to mention, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) revealed the recreational abuse of gabapentin in Kentucky had increased by an immense 3,000 percent within ten years.5 On March 2017, Kentucky enacted the first legislative classifying gabapentin as a controlled substance, limiting the distribution of the drug to the public, and other States within the Union are following suit.

For more information about the use of gabapentin in the State of Kentucky, please check out the source article at the Huffington Post.

A question continues to linger, what will it take to finally end the opioid epidemic, not only in the United States but across the globe? More so, when will patients reliant on pharmaceuticals finally have a method of receiving their prescriptions without someone, or even themselves at times, abusing the medication for other intentions beyond medical purposes?

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