The U.S. is in the midst of an epidemic. Two and a half million of its citizens are suffering from opioid use disorder, which contribute to the tens of thousands of deaths by overdose that occur in the country in a single year. In fact, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about 91 Americans lose their lives from an opioid overdose within every 24-hour period. That's about 33,215 lives per year.
But the facts become even more frightening when you examine opioid use in our youth. Too many heartbroken parents mourn their children’s drug overdose deaths without even knowing their son or daughter was abusing opioids. A 2017 study reveals that among all adults in treatment for opioids, one third had started using the drug before the age of 18, and two-thirds before the age of 25.
Available Treatments for Opioid Use Disorder
The three most common FDA approved medications that play a critical role in the treatment of opioid use disorders are:
This medication is an opioid partial agonist. This means that it produces similar effects as other opioids such as heroin and methadone, but much weaker and only to an extent where the individual’s withdrawal symptoms are alleviated. While it may still cause euphoria, it has been shown to increase treatment compliance allowing more individuals to remain in rehabilitation and live a sober life.
Methadone is one of the most well-known and most used drug for moderate to severe opiate addiction. It works by binding to the same receptors in the brain as heroin and similar opioid painkillers, but methadone doesn’t get the user high. Rather, it blocks the euphoric effects of opiate drug and helps relieve the painful symptoms of opioid withdrawal.
Approved by the FDA in pill or injectable form, naltrexone reduces the risk of relapse to opioid use and helps maintain abstinence from opioids. It works differently than buprenorphine or methadone, by blocking the euphoric and sedative effects of opioid receptors and decreasing the feelings of reward that accompany opioid use. Studies have shown that naltrexone has little no abuse potential.
Today, both buprenorphine and naltrexone can be offered in the primary care setting. However, few teens with opioid use disorder receive the medication due to, in part, a widespread shortage of physicians who have received the certification required to prescribe buprenorphine. At the same time, of these trained doctors, only one percent are pediatricians able to provide care for adolescents.
The Current State of Opioid Addiction Treatment
The study, conducted in Boston University Medical Center, states that only one in four young adults and teens with opioid use disorder are receiving potentially life-saving medications for addiction treatment. Researchers were able to dissect the sociodemographic differences between the teens and young adults who do receive medical treatment and those who do not. They were able to deduce the following:
Teens were least likely than young adults to receive medications, with less than 1 in 50 teens aged 13 to 15 and 1 in 10 teens aged 16 to 17 receiving buprenorphine or naltrexone
Females were less likely than males to receive treatment drugs
African-American and Hispanic teens were less likely to receive medications compared to Caucasian adolescents
Looking to the Future
Most addiction counselors and healthcare experts advise that medications, along with cognitive and behavioral counseling, are integral aspects of a comprehensive treatment plan. From a medical perspective, this will help individuals get the most out of their program.
Individuals who abuse opioids deserve access to medical treatment—along with cognitive and behavioral counseling—in order to optimize their chances of achieving full recovery. When it comes to teens, researchers who’ve studied the disparity of this demographic conclude that one of the best things parents and guardians can do is to keep their eyes peeled for any signs that their teen may be experimenting. In this particular age group, catching on early and receiving effective treatment are their best chance at preventing a lifetime of harm.