Harvard Mental Health Letter

In brief: Improving outcomes for opioid-addicted youth

In brief

Improving outcomes for opioid-addicted youth

Young people who are addicted to opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and heroin account for a significant proportion of patients undergoing treatment for dependency. In 2006, for example, 10% of patients admitted to hospitals or clinics for the treatment of opioids other than heroin were younger than 20, while 31% were between 20 and 24.

The usual treatment offered to young people with opioid addiction is a combination of counseling and detoxification using a tapering drug schedule to ease the withdrawal process. In November 2008, researchers reported the results of a clinical trial sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which found that more extensive treatment might be more effective than the traditional approach.

In the 12-week study, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania enrolled 152 patients with opioid addictions, ages 15 to 21, and randomized them to one of two treatments. Those in the detox arm received up to 14 mg per day of a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone (Suboxone), tapered over 14 days, while those in the more intensive treatment arm received up to 24 mg per day of the drug combination, tapered starting at week 9. All participants underwent weekly individual and group counseling, as well as periodic urine tests to detect opioids.

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