A drug that has been increasingly abused by opioid users is becoming harder to access in Tennessee, designated as a controlled substance starting July 1.
Gabapentin was designed to treat epilepsy and nerve pain. It's now used for neuropathy related to diabetes, mood disorders and even as an alternative to opioids, endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control.
But it's also sold on the street for as little as a dollar a pill, known as "johnnies" or "gabbies." Opioid addicts have used the medication to intensify the effects of heroin. And when taken in large quantities, the drug can produce a high on its own like that of marijuana.
Neighborhood Health's dispensary, which intentionally does not stock scheduled drugs, will no longer carry gabapentin. So CEO Brian Haile has been trying to connect legitimate patients with other charity pharmacies.
"In fact, we had been tightening and becoming far more rigorous in our approach to gabapentin prescribing over the last three years because of all the mounting evidence nationally," Haile says.
Tennessee has not been tracking gabapentin's relationship to overdoses. But a health department spokesperson says that will be easier with the controlled substance designation, passed by the Tennessee legislature this year.
Gabapentin has been classified as a Schedule V, along with drugs like Tylenol with codeine. This class of controlled substances still has very low risk of dependency or overdose.