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Physicians predict increased use of gabapentin for chronic pain

Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant and an important analgesic in the treatment of neuropathic pain. It may also be prescribed for chronic pain and has found increasing use for this purpose as the opioid crisis has continued. According to survey results of over 500 physicians, three-quarters (75%) were very concerned about opioid misuse. “This may be why physicians prescribed gabapentin,” note the authors of the 2021 Quest Health Trends® Report, the latest in a series of reports designed to bring objective data to the understanding of the nation’s healthcare challenges. 

This year’s Health Trends® report combines analysis of nearly 5 million deidentified test results from Quest Diagnostics with results from a Harris Poll survey of over 500 physicians conducted in August 2021. 87% of physicians said they prescribed gabapentin for chronic pain in the past 6 months while about two-thirds prescribed opioids (65%). Furthermore, 27% of physicians say gabapentin prescribing for chronic pain will increase in the next 6 months while only 7% say the same for opioids.

Clinical drug testing is an important adjunct to any treatment program that includes prescription pain relievers, including gabapentin. When gabapentin is taken alone and as prescribed, “there is little potential for misuse or addiction,” write the authors of the report. “However, when a person takes gabapentin with other medications, such as muscle relaxants, opioids, or anxiety medications, it can produce a high.” When combined with other central nervous system depressants such as opioids, gabapentin can contribute to respiratory depression.

The report was authored by Jay G. Wohlgemuth, MD, senior vice president, R&D and Medical, and chief medical officer for Quest Diagnostics; Harvey W. Kaufman, MD, senior medical director and director, Health Trends Research Program for Quest Diagnostics; and Creighton Drury, chief executive officer, Partnership to End Addiction.

Source:  Wohlgemuth JG, Kaufman HW, Drury C. Health Trends Drug Misuse in America 2021: Physician perspectives and diagnostic insights on the drug crisis and COVID-19.