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Suicide attempts and hospitals admissions linked to non-opioid drugs on the rise

All states have seen increases in gabapentin exposures over a five-year period, coinciding with a decline in opioid prescriptions.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

A major new analysis of the non-opioid medications gabapentin and baclofen shows "worrying" increases in related suicide attempts and hospital admissions in U.S. adults since 2013 -- coinciding with a decrease in opioid prescriptions.

With the risks of opioid medications widely publicised, there has been a dramatic decline in prescriptions in the United States since they peaked in 2010-2012. But with millions of adults still living with chronic pain, non-opioid medications are widely viewed as safer alternatives for pain management. Prescriptions for gabapentin have increased 64% from 39 million in 2012 to 64 million by 2016, when it was the 10th most commonly prescribed medication in the country.

In this latest study, published in Clinical Toxicology, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh looked at over 90,000 cases of exposure to the medications and saw large increases in misuse and toxicity -- with isolated abuse instances of using gabapentin from 2013 to 2017 rising by 119.9%, and baclofen (2014-2017) by 31.7%.

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Reviewing the data, collected in the National Poison Data system of trends in exposures reported to U.S. Poison Centers, their results show that all states have seen increases in gabapentin exposures. Most also saw increases in baclofen exposures, gabapentin misuse/abuse, and baclofen misuse/abuse over the period in question.

During the five-year period from 2013-2017, there were 74,175 gabapentin exposures. All gabapentin exposures increased by 72.3%; isolated exposures by 67.1% and isolated abuse/misuse by 119.9%.

During the four-year period from 2014 to 2017, there were 15,937 baclofen exposures. All baclofen exposures increased by 36.2%; isolated exposures by 35% and isolated misuse/abuse increased by 31.7%.

They also showed that admissions to a healthcare facility were required in 16.7% of isolated gabapentin exposures and 52.1% of isolated baclofen exposures. Intentional suspected suicide attempts increased by 80.3% for isolated gabapentin exposures over a five-year-period and 43% for baclofen over a four-year-period. Co-ingestion of sedatives and opioids were common for both medications.


Due to growing concerns related to the misuse of gabapentin, new measures have been introduced in several US states during the final year or after the data collection period of the study - either re-classifying the drug as a Schedule V controlled substance or mandating the reporting of prescriptions. Re-evaluations of prescribing and exposure trends in these states may provide insight into the effects of such programs.

The authors recommend that patients who are prescribed these medications should be screened for substance use disorders, mood disorders, and suicidal ideation utilizing validated screening tools and the prescription drug monitoring program.

Twitter: @JELagasse

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