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Nerve Drug Now seen being Abused More in East Tennessee

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A drug often used to treat nerve pain is being abused. The Metro Drug Coalition says gabapentin is increasingly being sold on the streets and neonatal physicians are seeing the drug in the systems of babies suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Metro Drug Coalition Executive Director Karen Pershing says gabapentin can give the user a high and that it’s not know how large the issue because it is not a controlled substance. Therefore, the usage is not easily tracked.

Gabapentin has been on the market since the early 1990s. It is primarily used for nerve pain, shingles and seizure disorders but Pershing says it’s being sold on the streets for as little as 50 cents a pill.

“It’s cheap. They can find it on the street. They can get it prescribed pretty easily. It does cause euphoria in people who do abuse it,” said Pershing.

John Lott, the senior director of the Regional Forensic Center, says they normally do not test to see if gabapentin is in a person’s system unless it is specifically requested. However, he says you can overdose from this drug. Lott says gabapentin is suspected in two 2016 overdose deaths in Knox County, but the results have not yet been returned.

This drug is also being seen more in the systems of babies suffering withdrawal symptoms. Dr. Craig Towers, UT Medical Center’s Vice Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, is studying the impact of gabapentin and other drugs on babies.

“What effect does it have on the babies, their growth, their birth parameters, their head size at birth, the severity of the neonatal abstinence syndrome?” asked Dr. Towers.

He says in over just a year and a half, the number of pregnant women seen in his office taking gabapentin has tripled.

“The combination of gabapentin and opiates may increase the incidents and or severity of neonatal abstinence syndrome. We are in the process of looking at that to determine if that’s true,” said Dr. Towers.

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