Gabapentinoid Pharmacology in the Context of Emerging Misuse Liability

Kirk E. Evoy, Alyssa M. Peckham, Jordan R. Covvey, Kevin J. Tidgewell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


This article will review the epidemiology and pharmacology of gabapentinoids (gabapentin and pregabalin) relevant to their emerging misuse potential and provide guidance for clinical and regulatory management. Gabapentinoids are γ-aminobutyric acid analogues that produce their therapeutic effects by inhibiting voltage-gated calcium channels and decreasing neurotransmitter release. Recently gabapentinoid prescribing and use have increased tremendously. Although traditionally thought to possess a favorable safety profile, gabapentinoid misuse has also risen significantly. Gabapentinoid misuse generally occurs in combination with other substances, most notably opioids, and may be for purposes of eliciting euphoric effects, enhancing the effects of other substances, or self-treating conditions such as withdrawal, pain, anxiety, or insomnia. Given its faster onset, increased bioavailability and potency, and nonsaturable absorption, pregabalin's pharmacokinetics theoretically enhance its misuse liability versus gabapentin. However, gabapentin can produce similar euphoric effects, and epidemiologic studies have identified higher rates of gabapentin misuse in the United States, likely because of greater availability and less regulated prescribing. Although adverse events of gabapentinoid-only ingestion are relatively benign, a growing body of evidence indicates that gabapentinoids significantly increase opioid-related morbidity and mortality when used concomitantly. In addition, significant withdrawal effects may occur on abrupt discontinuation. As a result of these trends, several US states have begun to further regulate gabapentinoid prescribing, reclassifying it as a controlled substance or mandating reporting to local prescription drug-monitoring programs. Although increased regulation of gabapentin prescribing may be warranted, harm reduction efforts and increased patient and provider education are necessary to mitigate this concerning gabapentinoid misuse trend.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S89-S99
JournalJournal of Clinical Pharmacology
Issue numberS2
StatePublished - Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The American College of Clinical Pharmacology


  • abuse
  • gabapentin
  • gabapentinoids
  • misuse
  • pharmacology
  • pregabalin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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