Advances in Treatment for Teen Opioid Addiction

A recent study at the Boston University Medical Center revealed that treatment for teen opioid addiction is greatly enhanced when hospitalization treatment includes the use of buprenorphine. Furthermore, when those same teens are then connected to an outpatient facility after hospitalization, relapse is significantly reduced. Essentially specialized treatment during and after hospitalization leads to more successful treatment outcomes.


Opioids come in many forms, such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine. They are typically used as strong pain relievers and frequently come in pill form. Abuse begins when a person takes these pills in a different manner than prescribed, often in a larger dose, or by taking the pills of someone else. Others who abuse the drug might crush the pills and inject or snort the powder. This gets the opioid into the bloodstream very quickly and increases the risk of overdose and addiction.


The side effects of opioids include drowsiness, constipation, difficulty breathing, and depending on the amount taken, opioid use can even cause death. Because of the effect that opioids have on breathing, they should not be taken with alcohol or other medication that further slow breathing down, such as antihistamines or barbiturates, because they can further complicate side effects and have life-threatening effects.


The Boston Medical Center study involved 139 hospitalized individuals with an opioid addiction who were not already in treatment. These individuals were divided into two groups, where one received a tapered dose of buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is an opioid substitute which as been used as a means to treat an opioid addiction. The first group also received a referral to a primary care facility that uses a buprenorphine treatment program. The second group who received neither of these treatment tools served as a control, a benchmark upon which the researchers compared their findings.


Buprenorphine is a drug that was FDA approved in 2002 as a means for easing the withdrawal process from opioids. This treatment drug is taken orally and helps facilitate the detox process.


The results showed that 37%, more than one third, of the first group reported no illicit opioid drug use for the month after they left the hospital. At the same time, only 9% of the second group reported no illicit opioid use within the first month following discharge.


“Our results show that we can have a marked impact on patient’s addiction by addressing it during their hospitalization,” said Jane Liebschutz, MD, MPH, a physician in general internal medicine at Boston Medical Center.


Experts say that when opioids are taken according to the precise way that they have been prescribed, they are safe. They will relieve pain and rarely cause an addiction, when a patient takes them according to a doctor’s direction.  However, when these drugs are not taken according to direction, when they are abused in any way, that is when they become addictive. Sadly, adolescents tend to abuse opioids, especially after they have been using tobacco, alcohol, and/or marijuana on a regular basis.


Typically, treatment for those who are addicted will need to undergo clinical, supervised detoxification in order to manage the withdrawal symptoms. A teen opioid addiction is similar to an addiction to heroin. Research has shown that the best combination of treatment for both these addictions include medication, such as buprenorphine, to manage the withdrawal symptoms, as well as therapy to address the behavioral and psychological issues that contributed to the addiction in the first place.


Long lasting treatment includes creating a new lifestyle in which different daily choices are made, creating a strong support system, and examining the thoughts and behaviors that might be contributing to the cycle of addiction.



Boston University Medical Center. (2014, June 30). Treat patients with addiction during, after hospitalization, study says. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140630164247.htm