Misuse of non-opioid drugs may be linked to increasing suicide attempts among Americans, say researchers

The researchers recommend that patients must be screened for substance use disorders, mood disorders, and suicidal ideation before being given the drugs


                            Misuse of non-opioid drugs may be linked to increasing suicide attempts among Americans, say researchers

A new study is calling for increased scrutiny of non-opioid drugs, suggesting two non-opiod medications may have resulted in a rise in suicide attempts and hospital admissions among users since 2013. 

The two non-opioid drugs investigated in the study are gabapentin and baclofen. While gabapentin is used to treat nerve pain, baclofen is a muscle relaxant that treats spinal cord injuries.

"Building a better understanding of the risks carried by these non-opioid medications is necessary so that providers and patients can make better-informed decisions about their role in pain management—and could also lead to the introduction of new public health measures," lead author Kimberly Reynolds of the University of Pittsburgh said.

Non-opioid medications have replaced prescription opioids, heroin and synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, after they came have under the scanner for its role in the rise of drug overdose cases in the US. (Getty Images)

Non-opioid medications have replaced prescription opioids, heroin and synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, after they came under the scanner for their role in the rise of drug overdose cases in the US.

Prescriptions for gabapentin have increased by 64% from 39 million in 2012 to 64 million by 2016, and it was the 10th most commonly prescribed medication in the US, the study says.

"We are seeing a worrying increase in harmful exposures to gabapentin and baclofen in US adults over recent years, which may be an unintended consequence of the move away from opioid prescriptions for pain management," Reynolds added.

Similarly, University of Virginia researcher Christopher Ruhm calculated that, in the 17-year period from 1999 to 2016, non-opioid medication deaths have increased by 274%.

From over 90,000 people who took these non-opioid drugs, Reynolds and the team saw gabapentin use increase by 72.3% from 2013-2017 and all baclofen use increase by 36.2% from 2014 to 2017. They also saw a rise of 119.9% and 31.7% in misuse and toxicity among those who took gabapentin and baclofen.

There was an increase in intentional suspected suicide attempts: This increased by 80.3% for those who took gabapentin over a five-year-period and 43% for baclofen over a four-year-period. These people also consumed sedatives and opioids.

In the future, the research team recommends that patients should be screened for substance use disorders, mood disorders, and suicidal ideation, before prescribing non-opioid drugs.

The study has been published in Clinical Toxicology.

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