By Olivia Bailey
BRISTOL – A medication just added to Virginia’s prescription monitoring program, or PMP, is now the number one dispensed drug on that list.
Pharmacists in Virginia noticed an alarming rise in the the number of Gabapentin prescriptions written and refilled early. They pushed for close monitoring and the drug is now on the state’s so-called watch list.
“What we’re seeing though is that it’s being prescribed for numerous different disorders that it’s not FDA approved for,” Sarah Melton said. Melton is a professor of pharmacy practice at ETSU’s Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy. She is one of our region’s leading experts on drug addiction.
In Virginia, pharmacists must report to the state when they fill Gabapentin prescriptions, now the most prescribed drug on the watch list.
“It is effective for pain syndromes, but what we’re seeing are people using this medication in very high doses to accelerate the high from opioids, muscle relaxants, benzodiazepines,” Melton said.
The medication, because of its illegal use, is a growing concern across the region. It is already listed as a controlled substance in Kentucky. The medication is just on the watch list for Virginia, and is not currently monitored in Tennessee.
“You do see that in some instances they do try to get the prescriptions early. We view that as the same way as a controlled. We hold patients to the day for that very reason,” Pharmacist Mark Flanary said. He said the drug is effective in combating seizures and nerve pain, but had the ability of being abused. Flanary added a red flag is when patients try to fill their prescriptions early.
Gabapentin is also posing a problem for the number of babies born addicted.
“What we’re seeing are more and more babies that are exposed to substances while the mother is pregnant. When they’re born, of course, they’re going into withdrawal from the opioids then not getting better when treated for that,” Melton said. “What we’re seeing is that those babies were exposed to Gabapentin, which also causes a withdrawal syndrome and has to be treated a little bit differently.”
Melton added Gabapentin is beginning to show up on toxicology reports in opioid overdose deaths.