Gabapentin and Lyrica, both sold by Pfizer, have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat only four debilitating pain problems: postherpetic neuralgia, diabetic neuropathy, fibromyalgia and spinal cord injury. Even for these approved uses, the evidence for relief offered by the drugs is hardly dramatic, Drs. Goodman and Brett reported in JAMA Internal Medicine online.
In many well-controlled studies they found there was less than a one-point difference on the 10-point pain scale between patients taking the drug versus a placebo, a difference often clinically meaningless. For example, among 209 patients with sciatica, Lyrica did not significantly reduce the intensity of leg pain when compared with a placebo, and dizziness was more commonly reported by the 108 patients who took the drug.
But when patients complain of pain related to conditions ranging from sciatica and osteoarthritis to foot pain and migraine, clinicians often reach for the prescription pad and order either gabapentin or the more costly Lyrica.
Following the approval of Neurontin, its producer at the time, Warner-Lambert, engaged in what the government determined was an illegal marketing campaign that resulted in sales exceeding $2 billion a year before its patent expired in 2004. Still, the campaign succeeded in bringing gabapentin to the attention of many doctors who treat patients with persistent life-disrupting pain.
It’s not that there are no other alternatives to opioids to treat chronic pain, among them physical therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis and mindfulness training. But practicing clinicians may be unaware of the options, most of which require more effort for the doctor than writing a drug prescription and are not as easy or accessible for patients as swallowing a pill.
As Dr. Michael E. Johansen, a family doctor in Columbus, Ohio, put it, “I use gabapentin clinically and try to stay close to the approved indications, but occasionally we run out of options when faced with patients who hurt. It’s rare that these drugs eliminate pain, and I don’t tell patients their pain will go away. If there’s any benefit, it’s probably marginal.”
Despite the limited evidence of benefit, in a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in February, Dr. Johansen found that the number of people taking gabapentinoids more than tripled from 2002 to 2015, with more than four in five taking the inexpensive generic, gabapentin.
Source : https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/20/well/live/millions-take-gabapentin-for-pain-but-theres-scant-evidence-it-works.html420