A qualitative analysis of gabapentin misuse and diversion among people who use drugs in Appalachian Kentucky

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27 Scopus citations


Gabapentin, an anticonvulsant and analgesic for postherpetic neuralgia, has been thought to have no abuse potential despite numerous published reports to the contrary. Gabapentin has been linked with impaired driving and opioid use, highlighting the need to more fully understand its risk profile. Thirty-three individuals reporting recent nonmedical use of gabapentin were recruited from two ongoing longitudinal studies of drug users in Appalachian Kentucky to participate in focus groups. Four sessions were held (two in the community and two in jail settings), during which participants responded to questions regarding their personal experiences with gabapentin misuse. Focus group participants were similar to other gabapentin users in the larger cohort studies with respect to demographics and drug use behaviors. Overall, the sample reported having initiated gabapentin more than 10 years earlier after having it prescribed for a legitimate, though generally off-label, medical indication (e.g., pain, anxiety, opioid detoxification). Participants reported use of gabapentin in combination with buprenorphine, other opioids, cocaine, and caffeine to produce sought-after central nervous system effects (e.g., muscle relaxation, pain reduction, sleep induction, feeling drunk, and feeling "high"). Focus group responses highlighted the low cost of gabapentin for the purpose of getting high and noted increasing popularity in the community, particularly over the last 2 years. Gabapentin was a prominent drug of abuse in two cohorts of the primarily opioid-using individuals. Providers should be aware of gabapentin's abuse potential, and a reexamination of the need for scheduling is warranted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-121
Number of pages7
JournalPsychology of Addictive Behaviors
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by an intramural pilot grant awarded to Rachel Vickers Smith through the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, and grants awarded to Jennifer R. Havens (R01DA033862 & R01DA024598) and Michele Staton (R01DA033866, K02DA35116, T32DA035200) by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Additionally, Elaine M. Boland’s time was supported by CDA IK2 CX001501 through the Department of Veterans Affairs Clinical Science Research and Development. We thank Breonna Douglas, Lee King, and Susan Jent for their dedication to the study and their work with the participants, which make studies like this possible. This submission contains material that previously formed part of Rachel Vickers Smith’s doctoral dissertation, which has been published according to the University of Kentucky requirements.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 APA, all rights reserved).


  • drug abuse
  • gabapentin
  • off-label prescribing
  • opioids
  • qualitative analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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