Last updated: December 4, 2023
Gabapentin is most often prescribed by physicians to treat epilepsy, restless leg syndrome, hot flashes, and neuropathic pain. It functions as a mild tranquilizer so, of course, addicts can obtain it on the black market. How long does gabapentin stay in the user’s system and does it show up on a drug test?
Gabapentin was first introduced in 1993 and a generic version followed in 2004. That’s also the year that the first reports on gabapentin abuse surfaced.
A study conducted in a Florida correction facility determined that less than 20% of inmates who were prescribed gabapentin were actually taking the drug. The rest had been distributed to the prison population. Five of the inmates who participated in the study reported crushing the pills to snort them. Furthermore, four of those five reported feeling a high that was similar to that of cocaine. They all had histories of cocaine abuse.
As a result of the study, a number of correctional facilities removed the drug from their accepted medications list.
Abuse reaches beyond prison walls
The prison population doesn’t corner the market on gabapentin abuse. While instances of purchasing the drug on the black market may be in less demand than oxycontin, for instance, it is available. Additionally, drug dealers purchase the stuff in bulk to mix with other drugs and increase their profit.
Several sectors of the population struggle with abusing this drug.
Some instances include:
- Some middle-aged and elderly patients who had histories of alcohol abuse reportedly took much higher doses than prescribed because of their alcohol tolerance.
- People attending substance abuse clinics report abusing gabapentin. In fact, one study found that of all patients surveyed, twenty-two percent of them reported abusing gabapentin for intoxication purposes.
- A 2011 police report stated that dealers increasingly cut gabapentin into illicit drugs, such as heroin or meth. It’s easily found in bulk on the black market.
Gabapentin is not regulated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Unfortunately, many experts feel that unless government agencies recognize the dangers of this prescription medication and place further restrictions on it, recreational use will increase.
Dangers and side effects
Gabapentin is prescribed in pill form and patients are instructed not to crush or chew the tablet. Of course, that verbiage is a green light for addicts to do just that. They, then, snort the drug to accelerate and intensify its effect. In addition, some even mix the powder with water for injection.
As with many prescription medications, those who take this drug eventually build up a tolerance. In other words, it takes increasingly larger doses to create the expected result. Of course, many people increase their dosage—often without consulting a physician. This is extremely dangerous because the negative effects of the drug are still being studied.
Gabapentin can cause life-threatening respiratory issues, especially in older adults or those suffering from COPD. There are other dangers associated with this drug.
- Suicidal thoughts
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Mood or behavior changes
- Impulsive behavior
- Increasing agitation or aggressiveness
- Blurred vision
- Problems with balance or eye movements
- Some instances of nausea, fever, or vomiting
Signs of addiction:
- Memory loss
- Loss of coordination
- Jerky movements
- Unusual eye movements
- Difficulty speaking
Signs of overdose:
- Weak or shallow breathing
- Blue-colored skin, lips, fingers, and toes
- Extreme confusion, drowsiness, or weakness
- Problems with balance or muscle movement
- Involuntary eye movements
- Increased seizures
Moreover, gabapentin reacts to other drugs and should never be mixed with opioids, cold or allergy medication, or muscle relaxers.
This drug does cause withdrawal symptoms which may start within 12 hours of last taking it.
- Body and stomach pain
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle twitching
- Light sensitivity
- Restless limb movements
Gabapentin and drug testing
Gabapentin is normally eliminated from the body forty-eight hours after last using the drug. However, the actual time frame varies from person to person for a variety of reasons.
- Dosage—extended-release tablets remain in the system longer
- Individual metabolism
- Body mass index (BMI)
- Overall health
Drug screens don’t typically identify gabapentin, however, employers can specifically add the drug to their screening panel—with one exception.
Blood drug test
Blood tests identify current impairment because they detect the parent drug. Employers usually reserve a blood test for post-accident scenarios due to the expense and short detection period. Blood tests identify gabapentin between five and seven hours after the drug is consumed.
Urine drug test
The urine drug test remains the most popular drug test on the market. It’s cost-effective and so commonplace that employees expect it when they learn of a company drug test.
Urine tests identify gabapentin in the system from one to three days.
Hair follicle drug test
Employers absorb the additional cost of the hair test when they want a more comprehensive result. Hair follicle drug tests identify any and all drug use for three months—gabapentin included.
Mouth swab drug test
Employers that hope to identify recent drug use often choose the mouth swab drug test. Currently, there isn’t a test panel for detecting gabapentin. However, it’s surely just a matter of time though as illicit use of the drug continues to rise.
The reason we drug test
The number one reason that employers create drug-free workplace policies is for safety’s sake. It’s our responsibility to make sure our employees are happy and remain healthy during their workday.
Drugs impair thinking and motor skills. People who use drugs put themselves and everyone around them at increased risk of being involved in an accident.
Furthermore, drug use lowers productivity, increases absenteeism, and medical costs increase too.
If gabapentin abuse is “trending” in your area, you can monitor it. Contact your drug testing company and they can easily add it to your panel. You can either replace something you currently test for or add it as a “plus one.”