Gabapentin Contributes to Spike in Overdose Deaths in W. Va.

Jan 22, 2017

A West Virginia Board of Pharmacy report says a prescription drug used to treat nerve pain is contributing to a sharp increase of overdose deaths in the state.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports the number of fatal overdoses involving gabapentin in West Virginia jumped from three in 2010 to 109 in 2015. The number of 2016 deaths are still being counted.

Pharmacy board administrator Mike Goff, who oversees the state's drug-monitoring database, says gabapentin is showing up in cocktails of drugs that are linked to overdose deaths. Users seeking a euphoric high mix the drug with opioids or muscle-relaxants and anti-anxiety medications.

"Sometimes, they have prescriptions for all of them," Goff said.

The increase in deaths has prompted a pharmacy board committee to recommend making gabapentin a controlled substance in West Virginia, enabling the pharmacy board to track prescriptions for the drug, which is sold by Pfizer under the brand name Neurontin.

Goff says currently the volume of gabapentin prescriptions in the state isn't known.

The gabapentin-related overdose deaths were cited in the pharmacy board's annual report released last week.

Gabapentin has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat seizures and pain caused by shingles. It also is used by some veterinarians to treat epilepsy and seizures in dogs and cats.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has touted gabapentin as a safer alternative to prescription opioids.

Ohio started requiring pharmacies to report sales of gabapentin on Dec. 1.