Local health experts concerned over a spike in the use of common medications

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- On the street, they are known as Johnnies or Gabbies. The medication is called Gabapentin. Doctors say too much of it can cause your eyes to flutter.

Dr. Herbert Cruz is the medical director for Westcare. He says Gabapentin abuse is on the rise.

"Lately it's been used as a cut for heroin. It's been used by some individuals to enhance the effect of some of the opiates they might be ingesting and at times used somewhat as a party drug for people to experience a euphorigenic high." Dr. Herbet said.

Sixty-four-million prescriptions were written in the U.S. for Gabapentin in 2016, a 60% rise over four years. The medicine was originally prescribed for epilepsy patients.

Yuchen Wang is a pharmacist and psychiatry professor at California Health Sciences University. She cited an American Addiction Center survey on Gabapentin.

"They described like a high almost similar to marijuana," Wang.

Gabapentin isn't on the radar of local narcotics officers but Dr. Cruz has treated several patients who combine it with opioids.

"I suspect that it is in broader use than has been coming to our attention," Cruz said.

Ohio is now tracking sales of Gabapentin and it is now a scheduled substance in Kentucky. Gabapentin is not an opioid so it's not regarded as addictive.

Louisville professor and addiction specialist Rachel Vickers Smith says some doctors see Gabapentin as an opioid alternative.

"It is often prescribed for different kinds of pain, diabetic pain, nerve pain. It's also prescribed for sleep," Smith said.

And it's often used with painkillers or alcohol.

Even if a doctor has not prescribed Gabapentin, some people are constantly are on the lookout.

Another medication causing concern over its misuse is much easier to find. You can find Immodium on store shelves. Dr. Cruz says some people dealing with drug addiction are also popping Immodium.

The Food and Drug Administration has now urged the makers of Immodium to reduce package size to limit the number of doses sold. But there's no limit on how much you can buy.
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