Prevalence of opioid painkiller among young people in the USA can be called epidemic. A new study (Aaron Schultz; June 2017) reported that the rate of OUD (opioid use disorder) among young Americans aged fewer than 25 has risen six-fold between 2000 and 2015. Nearly 20,000 teens and young adults aged 13-25 across the United States were diagnosed with OUD. Drug overdose deaths have tripled over the same period. And only one in four of the young people got medical treatment that might prevent overdose or relapse. About 25% of those who were treated for addiction to opioid painkillers (e.g. oxycodone and hydrocodone) received naltrexone which blocked the high from opioids and helped prevent relapses.
The study has also shown that one third of adults treated for OUD started using opioids before the age of eighteen and two thirds before twenty five. Only few of them received medications like naltrexone or buprenorphine due, partly, to the fact that only 1% of certified physicians are pediatricians. Besides, too few pediatricians are trained in how to treat opioid addiction.
Moreover, some groups of patients such as females, Afro-Americans and Hispanics were less likely to be given naltrexone or buprenorphine than other addicts.
Naltrexone and Suboxone together
Aaron Schultz, who is pediatrician himself, noted in his report that it is critically important to early intervene in the development of addiction, using, in particular, such medications as naltrexone, to prevent irredeemable lifetime harm for a young person. “They should receive naltrexone not later than six months since the day of their diagnosis. It is especially effective when used together with Buprenorphine (Buprenex, Suboxone) to reduce cravings. These medications are now considered to be the standard of care for opioid addiction,” he said.
Aaron Schultz noted that parents need to learn to spot the signs of abuse. “Adolescents are very unlikely to seek medical help on their own initiative. It is very important that parents were on the lookout for changes of behavior in their kids. They can appear tired, sedated and disengaged with friends and family," he said.
There are several factors that prevent pediatricians from the timely use of naltrexone and Buprenorphine. They include limits on insurance coverage and restrictions against enrolling young patients in treatment programs where these medications are offered.
“There's also a fear among the youths that treatment with medications is a life-long stigma. It is imperatively important that access to addiction treatment has become widespread and easy for all categories of young patients," Dr. Schultz said.