Buprenorphine is a relatively mild opioid medication that doctors can use to help people affected by opioid dependence or addiction avoid some of the worst aspects of withdrawal during the recovery process. This medication has proven benefits when taken consistently. In a study published in May 2014 in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, researchers from two U.S. institutions sought to determine if people in different age ranges have a greater or lesser chance of sticking with a buprenorphine regimen while in recovery for opioid addiction. These researchers found significant differences in the treatment outcomes of the youngest adults.
Opioid Drug And Medication Statistics
Opioids come in both legal and illegal forms. In the U.S., adults and teenagers abuse legally produced prescription opioid medications more often than they abuse any other prescription substance, according to recent figures compiled by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In addition, the rate of prescription opioid abuse rose in all adult age groups in the first decade of the 2000s, as well as in both men and women. In terms of age, the peak rate of abuse for these medications occurs in the youngest adults between the ages of 18 and 25. The best-known illegal opioid drug is heroin. Use of this drug among American teens and adults has risen steadily since 2007; current estimates from SAMHSA indicate that roughly 669,000 people who are not homeless or incarcerated use heroin at least once per year.
Opioid Dependence And Addiction
The human brain and body have naturally occurring sites on their nerve cells called opioid receptors. When a person takes an opioid drug or medication, these receptors provide chemical access to the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). If an individual repeatedly takes an opioid drug or medication, the brain can grow accustomed to this substance’s effects and develop a dependence or reliance on its continued presence. Unlike the dependent users of most other substances of abuse, people with an opioid dependence don’t necessarily establish a dysfunctional lifestyle or experience other symptoms associated with addiction. However, in a significant number of cases, opioid dependence does turn into opioid addiction. The transition from dependence to addiction is particularly likely in people who use any opioid substance outside of a medical context and without a doctor’s supervision.
How Buprenorphine Works On Opioid Addiction Treatment
Buprenorphine accesses the opioid receptors just like commonly abused opioid drugs and medications. However, compared to these substances, the medication is substantially less powerful and also produces its impact relatively slowly. In combination, these facts mean that doctors can use buprenorphine to provide people recovering from opioid dependence/addiction with enough of a drug effect to avoid serious exposure to the highly destabilizing consequences of opioid withdrawal, but not enough of an effect to promote dysfunctional behavior. Doctors commonly combine the medication with naloxone, an anti-opioid medication that further limits the risks for problems in buprenorphine users.
Are There Age-Related Differences In The Effectiveness Of Buprenorphine Treatment?
In the study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, researchers from Harvard Medical School and Dartmouth College used an investigation of the records of 294 people affected by opioid dependence/addiction to explore age-related differences in the effectiveness of buprenorphine treatment. In addition to buprenorphine, all of these individuals received forms of treatment that included basic medical management, participation in highly focused outpatient care and weekly involvement in appropriate psychotherapy.
The researchers found that the youngest people participating in the study (those 18 to 25) were substantially less likely than their older counterparts to stay involved in treatment after three months had passed, and even more unlikely to stay involved in treatment after a full year had passed. In addition, compared to their older counterparts, these very young adults had much higher chances of producing urine drug tests that contained opioids, relapsing back into their previous patterns of opioid use and choosing to discontinue their treatment.
The study’s authors note that buprenorphine is commonly used, in part, because it frequently increases the likelihood that a person affected by opioid dependence/addiction will stay active in his or her treatment program. The scope of their project did not include an investigation of why very young adults don’t appear to receive this benefit as often as adults who have passed their mid-20s. The authors point out the need for additional research in this area and emphasize the importance of determining the best ways to provide effective treatment for 18- to 25-year-olds affected by opioid dependence or addiction.