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Pediatrics Group Calls For Greater Teen Access To Buprenorphine

By McCarton Ackerman 08/23/16

Last week, The American Academy of Pediatrics urged members to begin prescribing buprenorphine or other medications that treat opioid addiction to younger patients.

Pediatrics Group Calls For Greater Teen Access To Buprenorphine

A major pediatrics group is stepping in to urge doctors to provide teens with greater access to buprenorphine, noting that young addicts are pushed aside when it comes to being placed on long waiting lists of patients who can be treated with the drug, which is used to wean a user off of opioid drugs.

Federal law places heavy restrictions on buprenorphine in order to keep it from being diverted for illegal use. Although the Obama administration made a move in July by increasing the number of patients that doctors can treat at one time with buprenorphine—from 100 to 275—it’s a drop in the bucket considering the fact that drug overdoses now kill almost 44,000 Americans a year.

USA Today reported that the American Academy of Pediatrics urged members on Monday to be open to prescribing buprenorphine or other medications that treat opioid addiction to younger patients, or to refer patients to doctors that will if they aren’t in a position to do so.

“No other disease is treated this way,” said Jennifer Weiss-Burke, executive director at the Serenity Mesa Recovery Center for youth in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who lost her teenage son to a drug overdose in 2011. "If you had diabetes, you wouldn’t be told to start standing in line to get insulin.”

The restrictions on buprenorphine were established despite the fact that it’s gaining acceptance as an effective treatment with the ability to save lives. Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, called these medications "an essential component of an ongoing treatment plan" that allow people to "regain control of their health and lives."

The fact that young people receive limited access to these medications, and treatment in general, is especially concerning because addiction among this population, like others, has skyrocketed. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), illicit opioid use among those ages 12 to 25 has doubled between 1991 and 2012—but 90% of youth ages 12 to 17 don’t receive any form of treatment.

According to NPR, the main medication that teenagers often receive is Suboxone (a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, a drug which blocks any euphoric effects). It's a highly effective option. A study released in 2014 by the Yale School of Medicine showed that ongoing medication-assisted treatment (MAT) with Suboxone is more effective than abstinence and detoxification alone.

Most inpatient rehab centers with programs for teens tend to focus on proven forms of evidence-based treatment. These include Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT), Motivational Interviewing and Functional Family Therapy (FFT).

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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