This Adderall Ingredient Could Be Useful in Treating Cocaine Addiction

By Keri Blakinger 06/01/16

A new study set out to determine if dextroamphetamine had a positive effect on cocaine users on opioid-assisted treatment.

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This Adderall Ingredient Could Be Useful in Treating Cocaine Addiction
Photo Wikicommons/Seppi333

Adderall might not just be for ADHD anymore. According to a new study, it might be useful as a treatment for cocaine addiction. 

A study published in The Lancet used a randomized, double-blind trial to determine that cocaine users on heroin-assisted treatment who were given dexamfetamine used cocaine significantly less often than those not given the amphetamine drug. 

“The study findings showed that 60 mg/day oral sustained-release dexamfetamine over 12 weeks was well-accepted, safe, and superior to placebo,” the authors wrote.

Dexamfetamine—another name for dextroamphetamine—is one of the ingredients in Adderall. Most frequently, it’s been talked about in the context of ADHD treatment—not addiction treatment. Seeing the overall success of maintenance drug therapy for the treatment of opiate addiction—by substituting with synthetic opiates like methadone and buprenorphine—scientists are trying to figure out whether the same principle would apply for other drugs, like cocaine.

The new findings bring us another step in that direction. "It is the first study that shows the benefits of a robust dose of sustained-release dexamfetamine as a valuable ... medication in the treatment of cocaine dependence,” the researchers wrote

This isn’t the first time amphetamines have been used in cocaine-addiction studies. In 2012, the Los Angeles Times detailed a study that paired amphetamines with the anti-seizure drug topiramate. The 120-day trial found that patients taking the amphetamine/topiramate combination were more likely to stay off cocaine for at least three weeks than those who were given a placebo. The combo seemed to work faster than topiramate alone, which had been explored in previous studies. 

Before that, there were other amphetamine studies, though, as Maia Szalavitz detailed in TIME in 2008, they were mostly small and focused on safety. For instance, a British study of 60 patients found that dexamfetamine treatment worked about as well for stimulant users as methadone treatment did for heroin users. 

That comparison is helpful for understanding the basic idea behind using stimulants to treat a stimulant addiction. In a sense, it’s harm reduction for cocaine addicts—stimulant maintenance treatment.

There are potential risks, though. High doses of amphetamines can cause brain damage, psychosis and heart attacks—and there’s the possibility that those undergoing treatment could take cocaine on top of the amphetamines. Nonetheless, the hope of a medication to treatment cocaine addiction is intriguing, which is probably why researchers continue looking into it.

"I think we have found something of potential benefit, and it should be met with interest and further research, rather than disdain," John Grabowski, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota, told TIME in 2008.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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