PITTSBURGH - Videos are all over Youtube of people sharing their disturbing experiences with the drug Gabapentin. They demonstrate how intense the reaction can be to the drug used to treat nerve pain.
It's not an opioid, which is why more doctors are prescribing it.
"We've seen a steady decline in opioid prescribing from physicians, but that doesn't mean there are people that have less pain," said Dr. Michael Lynch, Medical Director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center at UPMC. "So we've looked for alternative medications to treat that pain."
The problem is, not everyone is using it properly. Lynch said Western Pennsylvania has seen an increase in Gabapentin's abuse, commonly referred to as "johnnys" on the street.
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Addicts admit it's cheaper than prescription painkillers. They say it's easier to get and they think it's safer than heroin or fentanyl.
"There is no safe drug," said Dr. Lynch. "Gabapentin, we have seen people end up on breathing tubes, ventilators and die as a result."
Another layer to the problem is that Gabapentin it's getting mixed with opioids on the street.
“Some people will crush it up, they'll snort it, they'll actually inject it to really get that intense high right off the bat," said Dr. Lynch. "And if they use it with something like an opioid, it does intensify the high."
Dr. Lynch says the only long-term solution to drug abuse is to start recognizing problems early on.
"Whether it's crack cocaine, meth, heroin, fentanyl, opioid, prescription medication, they're going to come and go," said Dr. Lynch.
Society needs to start understanding risk factors sooner, he said, instead of responding when it's already too late.
Dr. Lynch said you should always talk to your doctor before starting any medication and be honest about what you're experiencing.
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