Opioid addiction impacts people of all ages. However, adults and adolescents receive different treatment approaches when they seek help.
A recent study revealed that teenagers with opioid use disorder (OUD) are far less likely to receive medication than adults with the same condition.
Young People And Opioid Addiction
Opioids are drugs that relieve pain, and, when misused, also produce a euphoric high. These drugs include prescription medications such as oxycodone.
They also include heroin, a street drug that some people with OUD turn to when they no longer have access to pain medication.
Both regulated and unregulated opioids are highly addictive. Much of the research on the U.S. opioid crisis has focused on adults, but teens can also experience opioid addiction.
Although teen opioid misuse is uncommon, teens who do abuse opioids face a high risk of overdose and death.
Therefore, it is essential that young people who experience OUD receive treatment that has been proven effective.
Opioid Addiction Medications
One of the most effective forms of OUD care is medication-assisted treatment (MAT). It is especially beneficial when combined with behavioral therapy.
Within MAT programs, doctors prescribe medications that reduce cravings and other withdrawal symptoms that can inhibit the recovery process.
Existing research supports buprenorphine and naloxone for opioid abuse in teens.
However, a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reveals that teens with OUD often don’t receive this type of treatment.
The study examined inpatient addiction treatment facilities for young people. Among the facilities in the study, less than 25% offered any level of buprenorphine management.
In fact, teen inpatient facilities were more likely to offer horseback riding, which is an unproven treatment approach, than MAT, which is supported by evidence.
Why Are Teens Less Likely To Receive Opioid Addiction Medications?
It’s difficult to say why teens have less access to addiction medication than adults, as current research is limited.
There may be several overlapping reasons, including ageism and misinformation, that prevent young people from receiving this type of care.
Opioid Treatment Hesitancy
One possible reason for the lack of OUD medications for teens may come from overall hesitancy toward these medications.
Buprenorphine, for example, is itself an opioid, as are the other most common drugs that treat opioid addiction.
Many people mistakenly believe that buprenorphine and similar medications only substitute one addiction for another.
However, these medications, when used appropriately, do not cause a high. Instead, they relieve the physical symptoms of opioid withdrawal, which can be severe and dangerous.
They also replace more powerful and unregulated opioids such as heroin and illicit fentanyl, lowering the chances of overdose and death.
Prescriptions such as buprenorphine are taken under medical supervision, and many people who receive MAT are able to taper off of their medication safely.
Nevertheless, misinformation can prevent people from receiving the most effective treatment for their needs.
Adult Attitudes Toward Teens And Mental Illness
Many studies have examined ageism against older adults, but few have examined how ageism impacts young people.
Ageism, or age-related prejudice, impacts people’s income, opportunities, and daily lives. It may also overlap with people’s views on mental illness.
Today, researchers understand that addiction is a mental illness rather than a choice.
While addiction still carries a societal stigma, more and more people have begun to realize what addiction experts have known for years.
However, age-related prejudice may still affect people’s views on addiction in young people.
Some may see adolescent drug use as a deliberate rebellion rather than a disorder that requires treatment.
As a result, when parents and caregivers look for addiction programs for their teens, they may look for those that emphasize changing outward behaviors rather than programs that address the root of the illness.
Closing The Medication Gap
Research on teen access to addiction medication is still new. However, addressing this disparity is crucial.
By bridging the gap in OUD treatment access, professionals can help teenagers overcome opioid abuse, reduce their risk of overdose, and take steps toward a healthier adulthood.
Find Addiction Treatment Today
Addiction is difficult for people of all ages, but it is a treatable condition. If you, your teen, or another loved one needs substance abuse care, contact us today to discover your options.
Published on June 21, 2023
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- Journal Of The American Medical Association
- National Library Of Medicine
- Washington University In Saint Louis Institute For Public Health