Few adolescents receive effective treatment for opioid addiction

(Reuters Health) – Only a small fraction of teens with an opioid addiction will receive drugs that can help them quit smoking, new research shows.

These drugs, usually methadone or suboxone, are prescribed to reduce the craving for opiates and relieve withdrawal symptoms, and studies show that they help opiate users abstain. In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised doctors to consider drug treatment, particularly suboxone, for adolescents with “severe opioid use disorder”.

To get a “basic” idea of ​​drug treatment in adolescents with opiate or heroin addiction, Kenneth Feder of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore and his colleagues looked at data from 139,092 patients. receiving treatment through publicly funded programs in the United States. in 2013.

While 26% of adult heroin addicts received drug treatment, this was only true for 2% of adolescents.

Among opioid-dependent patients, 12% of adults received medication, compared to less than 1% of adolescents, researchers reported in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“There is more to be done at all levels to facilitate access to these treatments when they are medically necessary,” Feder told Reuters Health by phone. “The best validated treatment for someone struggling with opiate addiction is treatment that includes some kind of medication assistance.”

Patients seeking drug treatment face a number of barriers. Methadone is only offered at specific addiction treatment centers, and these centers need a waiver to treat anyone under the age of 18. Additionally, Medicaid rules state that teens with an opiate addiction must have failed treatment twice to be prescribed methadone. Doctors can prescribe suboxone, the other main drug for this purpose, to patients 16 and older, but only if they have a waiver.

“These treatments may not be covered by a state’s Medicaid program,” Feder added. “And if they’re medically necessary, we think they should be covered by a state’s Medicaid program.”

The difference in drug treatment rates between adolescents and adults is “really striking and very concerning,” Dr. Lisa Marsch of the Geisel School of Medicine in Dartmouth, Lebanon, New Hampshire, told Reuters Health by phone. Marsch studied drug treatment but did not participate in the new study.

Drug treatment is clearly more effective for adults and adolescents, Marsch said, and by not extending treatment to more patients, “we are doing a real disservice to the science and the data.”

About half a million American teens use prescription opiates each year, and just under 10% will become addicted, Marsch added. “We want to have a chance to stop this problem sooner.”

SOURCE: bit.ly/2lLuWYN Journal of Adolescent Health, online March 1, 2017.

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