PHILADELPHIA – With increasing public attention to overdose deaths and misuse of prescription medications in the United States, researchers today presented the results of a new study looking at abuse and misuse of gabapentin, a medication used to treat seizures and relieve nerve pain often associated with shingles.

The research, presented at the 68th AACC Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo in Philadelphia, found about one in five patients who are using powerful opioid pain medications and being monitored for compliance or illicit drug use tested positive for gabapentin even though they did not have a prescription for the drug.

“The high rate of misuse of this medication is surprising and it is also a wakeup call for prescribers,” said Poluru L. Reddy, PhD, DABCC, the medical director of ARIA Diagnostics and ARCTIC Medical Labs. “Doctors don’t usually screen for gabapentin abuse when making sure patients are taking medications, such as opioids, as prescribed. These findings reveal that there is a growing risk of abuse and a need for more robust testing.”

Between 2008 and 2011 the number of emergency room visits in metropolitan areas for misuse or abuse of gabapentin (also known by the brand name Neurontin) increased by nearly five times, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network. Gabapentin is not scheduled as a controlled substance, because when taken alone there is little potential for abuse and addiction. When taken with other medications, however, such as opioids, muscle relaxants, and anxiety medications like Valium and Xanax, gabapentin can be abused to increase a patient’s “high.”

Researchers at ARIA Diagnostics found that of those patients taking gabapentin illicitly, over half (56%) were taking it with an opioid, about a quarter (27%) with an opioid and muscle relaxant or anxiety medication, and the rest with other substances. The 323 samples tested came from pain clinics (about 90%) and rehabilitation clinics (about 10%) primarily in Indiana, Arizona, and Massachusetts.

“This research tells doctors and prescribers that they need to be cautious in prescribing gabapentin and closely monitor patients with a history of drug abuse,” said Reddy. “And patients need to know that medications that are safe alone can be dangerous when mixed without talking with a doctor.”

In addition to this study, researchers will present the latest in drug abuse testing at the AACC Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo, including:

  • A new clinical laboratory test for patients in drug monitoring programs that differentiates between the presence of illicit methamphetamines and the use of legal methamphetamines found in over-the-counter decongestant inhalers. This test would make this screening more widely available. Validation of an LCMS Method for Chiral Determination of Methamphetamine” (A-371)

Session Information

Registration for the AACC Annual Scientific Meeting is free for members of the media. Reporters can register online here:

Abstract B-324: Prevalence of Gabapentin abuse among clinical patients will be presented during Session 34101: What’s New in Toxicology and Therapeutic Drug Monitoring

Wednesday, August 3
10:30 a.m. – Noon
114 Lecture Hall
Scientific Posters A-351 and A-371

Tuesday, August 2
9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. (presenting authors in attendance from 12:30–1:30 p.m.)
Terrace Ballroom
Scientific Posters B-313 and B-320

Wednesday, August 3
9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. (presenting authors in attendance from 12:30–1:30 p.m.)
Terrace Ballroom

All sessions and scientific posters will be presented at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia.

About the 68th AACC Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo

The AACC Annual Scientific Meeting offers 5 days packed with opportunities to learn about exciting science from July 31–August 4. Plenary sessions feature the latest research on the use of and testing for cannabis, combating premature death due to preventable causes such as tobacco and alcohol, the development of an “intelligent” surgical knife, programmable bio-nano-chips, and the epigenetic causes of disease.

At the AACC Clinical Lab Expo, more than 750 exhibitors will fill the show floor of Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Convention Center, with displays of the latest diagnostic technology, including but not limited to mobile health, molecular diagnostics, mass spectrometry, point-of-care, and automation.

About AACC

Dedicated to achieving better health through laboratory medicine, AACC brings together more than 50,000 clinical laboratory professionals, physicians, research scientists, and business leaders from around the world focused on clinical chemistry, molecular diagnostics, mass spectrometry, translational medicine, lab management, and other areas of progressing laboratory science. Since 1948, AACC has worked to advance the common interests of the field, providing programs that advance scientific collaboration, knowledge, expertise, and innovation. For more information, visit