Chronic pain is so prevalent in the US that at least 20.5% of the adult population experiences it. In numbers, that translates to an estimated 50.2 million adults who live with long-term pain.
It’s no wonder then that pain medications are among the most widely used drugs in the country. So much so that more than one in 10 adults aged 20 or older used at least one type of pain killer in a month from 2015 to 2018.
Neurontin, a prescription drug, is an example of pain medication with a high usage rate in the US. However, it’s interesting to note that this drug’s initial use wasn’t even for pain. Still, after years of studies, researchers found it to be effective for some types of pain.
To that end, we created this guide on Neurontin and how people use it. Read on to discover what it’s for and the pain-related conditions it may be helpful for.
What Is Neurontin?
Neurontin is one of the branded versions of the prescription drug called gabapentin. It belongs to the class of medications known as anticonvulsants or anti-seizures.
Japan was the first to discover gabapentin in the 1970s as a muscle relaxer and anti-spasm. From there, the Asian country found it to be effective as an anticonvulsant. Then, in 1993, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its use as a partial seizure treatment.
Neurontin has then received FDA approval for adult post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). This is the most common complication of shingles, a viral infection.
Post-herpetic neuralgia affects the skin and the nerve fibers. It causes burning pain that doesn’t go away even after the shingles have disappeared. Some patients also say they feel a stabbing or shooting pain from within the area of the affected nerve.
PHN is quite common, affecting 10% to 18% of people who’ve had shingles. Shingles are also common; about one in three people contract them once in their lifetime.
Is Neurontin a Narcotic?
No, Neurontin and other forms of gabapentin aren’t narcotics or opioids.
Narcotics, also called opioids, include substances like codeine, morphine, and tramadol. They are forms of controlled substances, which means the law regulates their use. One reason for this is their high potential for misuse and addiction.
By contrast, gabapentin is a chemical compound with an amino acid-like structure. It’s an analog of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a naturally occurring amino acid. So, Neurontin and other gabapentin drugs don’t contain opiates or opioids.
For that reason, gabapentin medications are non-narcotic drugs. They don’t have the same level of addictive properties as narcotics. However, it still has a risk of abuse and misuse due to its pain-relieving effects.
The best way to avoid such risks is to use Neurontin and other gabapentin drugs as directed by a doctor.
Is Neurontin Approved by the FDA for Other Pain Conditions?
No, PHN is the only pain-related condition that the FDA approved gabapentin for. However, patients can buy Neurontin and take it as prescribed by a doctor for off-label use. Regardless of the reason, one can only purchase this drug with a valid prescription.
Below are some of the other most common Neurontin uses for pain-related conditions.
Non-Shingle Nerve Pain
Neuropathic pain, also called nerve pain, affects around 20% of the US population. About a quarter of these individuals have unexplained nerve pain. Health experts refer to these cases as cryptogenic sensory polyneuropathy (CSPN).
Patients with neuropathic pain or CSPN may choose to use gabapentin, including Neurontin.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) touts gabapentin as a first-line agent for nerve pain. According to the CDC, its proper use can bring about small to moderate benefits. As such, it recommends the use of gabapentin as a non-opioid therapy for nerve pain.
Painful Diabetic Neuropathy
Diabetic neuropathy is nerve damage that occurs in patients with diabetes. It often results from nerve injuries caused by high blood glucose (sugar) in the body. The nerves in the legs and the feet are the most common areas affected by diabetic neuropathy.
Experts say that up to half of the people with diabetes can develop diabetic neuropathy. Unfortunately, many of these cases cause moderate to severe burning or stabbing pain. Painful diabetic neuropathy can also lead to numbness or tingling sensations.
Researchers found gabapentin doses of 1,200 to 2,400 mg per day to help ease painful diabetic neuropathy. Other studies found evidence of at least a 50% decrease in pain severity with a gabapentin dosage of over 1,200 mg. Lower doses, such as 900 mg, appear to have no significant clinical benefits.
Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by widespread or generalized body pain. Those diagnosed with this condition experience pain in at least 4 to 5 regions of their body. Many patients also develop stiffness, headaches, migraines, and fatigue.
The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but unfortunately, it affects about 2% of US adults. That translates to four million people who experience severe pain all over the body.
Moreover, people with fibromyalgia have greater pain sensitivity than those without it. Health experts refer to this heightened sensitivity as abnormal pain perception processing.
Some patients also experience mental health effects, such as depression and anxiety. They may also have problems with sleep and cognitive functions. All these can then amplify the effects of their condition further.
The good news is that gabapentin, including Neurontin, may help ease fibromyalgia symptoms. However, it’s vital to note that not all research findings are positive. Only a few, such as a 2016 study, found gabapentin to be an effective fibromyalgia treatment.
Consider Neurontin as a Non-opioid Pain Reliever
As you can see, Neurontin or generic gabapentin may be helpful for various types of pain. Just remember that the FDA has only approved it for PHN, so the rest of its anti-pain uses are off-label. Still, if you don’t want to take opioids to ease your pain, be sure to ask your doctor about Neurontin or gabapentin.
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