Is Medication-Assisted Treatment a Safe Bet for Opiate-Addicted Teens?

For adults who are dependent upon opioid drugs like heroin and painkillers, medication that “replaces” the drug of choice and minimizes withdrawal symptoms is often used. Methadone and buprenorphine are the most commonly prescribed medications for this purpose, but in teens, most doctors are reluctant to use these drugs.

The conversation on whether or not these potent drugs—addictive in their own right—may be appropriate for heroin-addicted and painkiller-addicted teens is ongoing. A recent study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine suggests that there may be benefit to the use of Suboxone (a buprenorphine/naloxone combo drug) in some teens.

The Study

A chart review was done for teens and young adults who sought outpatient buprenorphine treatment for opiate addiction between January 2010 and January 2011. Urine tests were done to ensure that participants were taking the medication and not taking other drugs during that year.

The rates of participants who stayed in the program, were able to avoid relapse, and continued taking their medication during that time were high: 85 percent and 86 percent, respectively. However, only 75 percent of patients were present for a second visit; by 60 days, only 45 percent remained in treatment, and at the end of the year, about 9 percent were still actively taking their medication and in recovery.

Most studies followed the efficacy of buprenorphine treatment for 12 weeks, but this study extended the period to a year. There are no studies as of yet that follow up for the long-term to determine whether or not buprenorphine treatment continued to be effective, but if the results continue along the same trajectory, future studies could support the use of Subutex and Suboxone among some teens for opiate addiction treatment.

Improving the Odds of Recovery

One of the major components missing from the study was any mention of whether or not therapeutic treatment was a part of the recovery plan for the participants. Outpatient treatment for teens only works when it:

  • Is intensive, requiring a significant time investment each day in therapeutic and holistic treatments
  • Involves the parents or guardians
  • Allows for personalization of therapeutic treatment
  • Provides frequent check-ins on progress and relapse
  • Offers a step-down format for slowly lessening the time and therapeutic commitment as the patient is ready
  • Provides ongoing aftercare support as needed

Often, especially in the case of opiate addiction, it is best for a patient to begin his journey in recovery at an inpatient rehab program, with or without the use of medication. Contact us at Muir Wood today to discuss the options that we can provide your son with in treatment and recovery.