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Neurontin®, or gabapentin, is a $2 billion a year epic drug. Initially marketed by Parke-Davis (now a division of Pfizer), it was approved by the FDA in December 1993 for use as an add-on medication in the treatment of epilepsy-an very limited market. In order to escalate sales of this niche medication, Parke-Davis itself promoted Neurontin as treatment for a variety of unapproved and unproven medical circumstances, a patently illegal practice. Now, over 80% of Neurontin's prescriptions are for off-label uses.

Neurontin's maker has finally disclosed its wrongdoings, but has left in its wake a slew of patients and physicians ill-informed and ill-equipped to handle the dreadful consequences of bad science and fraudulent marketing.

What are the "off-label" uses?
Off-label use of a medication is when a drug is recommended for uses that have not been approved by the FDA. Physicians can legally prescribe medications for off-label uses, originated from their own experiences or the studies of other physicians, and this practice has been in place for years, often with great resulting success.

When a pharmaceutical company endorses a medication for off-label uses, as Parke-Davis did in its promotion of Neurontin, it is illegal, not to mention dangerous. As revealed in a July 2003 installment of Dateline NBC , in the case of Neurontin, this unlawful system had a number of disturbing consequences: when the medication was advertised as treatment of bipolar disorder, an untried situation for which it was soon after proven to be mainly unsuccessful, suicidal behavior was the outcome of users' bipolar disorder going essentially untreated.

Their plan to get everyone taking Neurontin consisted of hideously misleading methods, including posing salesmen (or "medical liaisons") as doctors in order to conceal their sales pitch as physician-to-physician advice and paying physicians to legitimize company-sponsored marketing articles published as independent studies.

Some of the everyday unapproved uses Neurontin was marketed to treat include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety issues including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
  • Pain syndromes: Peripheral Neuropathy, Diabetic Neuropathy, Trigeminal Neuralgia, Postherpetic Neuralgia
  • Migraine
  • Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD)
  • Lou Gehrig's disease
  • Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), Periodic Limb Movement
  • Essential Tremor
  • Drug and Alcohol withdrawal seizures
  • Alone for epilepsy, as monotherapy

While Parke-Davis attempted to persuade everyone that Neurontin was as harmless and beneficial as pure water and should be prescribed accordingly, that was not the case. For the many people taking Neurontin, there were no benefits, and that in itself is unsafe. When those taking Neurontin for bipolar disorder experience no benefits, they are basically untreated, a risky state for one suffering from such a serious condition. Bipolar disorder is characterized by manic highs and depressive lows, and during those lows sufferers may be more prone to suicidal behaviors.