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Health officials, sober home operators sound alarm on gabapentin

Posted at 5:28 PM, May 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-01 10:05:00-04

Doctors and pharmacists should be aware of a drug they've handed out for years that is now being used for a new purpose.

It's called gabapentin.

The CDC says gabapentin is a safe alternative to opioids, but not everyone agrees. 

Doctors commonly prescribe gabapentin to treat nerve pain and some offer it to help manage pain; there's the rub. Gabapentin is much easier to get now that Florida law restricts the use of opioids. 

Doctors gave Greg Fishman gabapentin after he had hip replacement surgery. They prescribed this drug so he would not rely on traditional painkillers or opioids while recovering, but he said they never told him how it would affect him in the long run. 

"I started getting tremors, hand tremors," said Fishman. "I had terrible terrible emotional swings and they went on for a long time." 

He told his doctor he wanted off gabapentin, but he could only do so slowly, 400 milligrams at a time.  

"It had effects in my life that if I wasn't in reasonably good shape, it could have been, a normal person would have taken their own life," said Fishman. 

Fishman said it took him six months to come off gabapentin and he still suffers cramps in his hands. 

"They never told me that I would have to be weaned off it," he added. 

Fishman's story does not surprise Sharyn Krim, a case manager for Martin County Health and Human Services. She worries about potential abuse. 

"The drug using community is starting to realize that gabapentin also called Neurontin, helps with pain and that you can get high from it," she said. 

Krim fears gabapentin is too easy to get. She worries addicts will use the drug in combination with fentanyl and other narcotics to find the same "high" they would on opiates. 

"If you take too much of it, you can OD and then if you go down to a lower dose, you can crash," she said. 

The Palm Beach County Substance Awareness Coalition said it shares Martin County's concerns about gabapentin.

Some in the sober home community are going one step further by calling on the federal government to reclassify gabapentin as a controlled substance.