While non-prescribed use of several drugs, including fentanyl, increased with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, non-prescribed use of gabapentin fell, according to a new study from Quest Diagnostics®. The study compared non-prescribed prescription and illicit drug positivity before and during the pandemic. While misuse of fentanyl, heroin, opiates, and marijuana rose, the non-prescribed use of gabapentin fell, as shown by presence in 13.1% of samples before March 15 2020, but only 10.9% of samples between March 15 and May 20, 2020. Non-prescribed benzodiazepine positivity also fell, from presence in 9.0% of samples to 8.6%.
Gabapentin is often prescribed as an alternative to opioids for managing chronic pain. “When taken alone and as prescribed, there is little potential for misuse or addiction,” commented the authors, led by Harvey Kaufman, MD, senior medical director, healthcare analytics solutions at Quest Diagnostics. “However, when taken with other medications, such as muscle relaxants, opioids, or anxiety medications, it can produce a feeling of euphoria, sedation, or high. A possible contributing factor for the decline in non-prescribed use of gabapentin during the pandemic is declining physician visits—with fewer prescriptions, these drugs may become less available for misuse through diversion.”
Niles JK, Gudin J, Radcliffe J, Kaufman HW. The opioid epidemic within the COVID-19 pandemic: drug testing in 2020. Popul Health Manag. ePub ahead of print. Published Oct 8, 2020. doi:10.1089/pop.2020.0230