8,000 Doses of Nerve Pain Med Missing From Indiana Prison

By Keri Blakinger 01/19/18

It remains unclear if any of the missing gabapentin has been recovered or if the suspected med-stealers have been identified. 


More than 8,000 doses of frequently-abused nerve pains meds have disappeared from a prison in Indiana, according to the Indianapolis Star

An Indiana Department of Correction spokesperson initially said a number of prisoners “MacGyvered” their way into a locked cage at the New Castle Correctional Facility and nabbed “several” packets of gabapentin around mid-December. 

But later, officials clarified that it was actually 8,114 doses of the drug—better known as Neurontin—that had disappeared over a two-month period. The missing meds apparently went unnoticed until mid-December, and it’s unclear whether any were recovered or whether the suspected med-stealers were identified. 

News of the disappearing pills comes amid reports of a nationwide spike in nerve pain drug prescriptions that some experts believe may be driven by off-label uses, which have grown as gabapentinoids have been viewed as a possible alternative to opioid-based pain medications. 

The class of drugs is approved for treating partial seizures and pain stemming from shingles, but not for chronic pain. That means that companies can’t promote the drug as a medication for chronic pain treatment, but doctors can prescribe it that way as an off-label use.

Gabapentin is not a controlled substance, but can amplify some drug highs. 

“This drug is highly abused in the drug restricted prison environment,” prison health contractor Wexford Health Sources wrote in a Dec. 18 document clarifying appropriate use. "Abuse by prescribed recipients, and related trafficking makes the drug a highly valuable commodity, giving every individual prescribed this drug automatic exposure to these incentives and risks.”

The drug is commonly prescribed at the 3,155-inmate New Castle lock-up, where roughly 200 prisoners are prescribed gabapentin, requiring the shipment of more than 38,000 doses in a two-month period.

“That seems like an excessive amount," said Ronald Shansky, a correctional medical care expert.

But the department of corrections begged to differ, saying the number of gabapentin prescriptions at New Castle was not out of line for a prison of that size. The prison system refused to answer the Indiana paper’s questions about its policies and expected repercussions of the theft. 

“Because the investigation is still ongoing, some of the questions cannot be answered at this time,” said Indiana prison spokesman Isaac Randolph. “Rest assured moving forward the DOC will continue to work with our vendors to review and if necessary revise any protocol and/or policy as needed to prevent another incident.” 

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.