Gabapentin isn’t a narcotic or federally controlled substance, but it is regulated and recognized as a controlled substance in certain states.

Gabapentin is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat seizure disorders and neuropathic pain.

Some people misuse the prescription medication alongside opioids to boost their effects, though this significantly increases the risk of unintentional opioid poisoning and death.

This has led several U.S. states to classify gabapentin as a controlled substance, with more potentially looking to do the same.

There have also been calls for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to classify the medication as a federally controlled substance, though some doctors disagree with such a move.

Read on to find out more about gabapentin’s current classification status across the United States and the various side effects and risks of the medication.

Gabapentin has been a federally noncontrolled substance since its FDA approval in 1993.

It’s typically used for epilepsy and nerve pain, a severe symptom that other prescription medications can often not manage.

But some states do control its use, labeling gabapentin as a Schedule 5 controlled substance.

Although gabapentin isn’t controlled federally, some states have listed it as a controlled substance and therefore regulate its use.

That’s because there have been increasing reports of gabapentin being misused, whether by being combined with opioids or used alone for nonprescribed reasons.

Some neurologists believe that stricter gabapentin regulation may lead to greater opioid use and make it harder for people with neuropathic pain to receive proper care.

The following states classify gabapentin as a controlled substance:

  • Alabama
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • North Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

Several other states require gabapentin prescriptions to be monitored, allowing authorities to detect potential misuse:

  • Connecticut
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Utah
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

These lists may be subject to change.

Gabapentin is generally well tolerated and safe for most people to use. But as with any medication, there’s a risk of side effects. Misuse can increase the risk of side effects.

Potential side effects include:

In rare cases, more serious side effects include:

If you experience any of the above symptoms, seek immediate medical attention or contact your local emergency services.

Before taking gabapentin, tell your doctor if you:

When first taking gabapentin, it’s best to be cautious when driving, using machinery, or drinking alcohol. The medication can cause drowsiness, which may affect your ability to do certain things, or have an adverse reaction when mixed with alcohol.

But the biggest risks of gabapentin come when people take the medication with opioids, or if a person already has a substance use disorder. In these cases, there may be an increased risk of dependence or overdose.

Serious breathing troubles can also occur in people with respiratory conditions, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma, or related risk factors.

Finally, there may be a higher risk of fetal cardiac abnormalities in pregnant people, according to a 2020 study. But the same study did not find evidence of a link between gabapentin use and major fetal abnormalities overall.

Before taking any new medication, it’s a good idea to talk with a healthcare professional.

Let them know if you currently take any opioid medication or medications for anxiety or sleep, or if you have any health conditions, such as breathing disorders, kidney disease, or diabetes.

It’s important to be honest about any drug or alcohol use or misuse. This will help your clinician determine whether gabapentin is safe for you, or if there’s a better alternative.

While there have been calls to make gabapentin a controlled substance across the United States, there are currently only limitations in some states.

Concerns revolve around its use alongside opioids and the potentially dangerous effects of this combination.

Lauren Sharkey is a U.K.-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.