Opioid addiction treatment is increasing, except in the young

January 21, 2020

An analysis of national data on buprenorphine use found that treatment with the FDA-approved medication for opioid addiction is increasing in all age groups except the young (age 15-24 years), in whom use of the medication is decreasing.

The findings were published in JAMA.

"While it's encouraging to see an overall increase in prescription rates for buprenorphine, the data suggest that the youngest group is having difficulty accessing this potentially lifesaving treatment," says the study's leader Mark Olfson, MD, MPH, the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine, and Law at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The study is the first to evaluate national trends in buprenorphine treatment.

Over the study period, annual rates of buprenorphine use more than doubled--from 1.97 per 1,000 people in 2009 to 4.43 per 1,000 people in 2018.

While increases in buprenorphine use varied among different age groups, medication use decreased by around 20% in the youngest group, from 1.76 to 1.40 per 1,000 people. Compared with older peers, treatment duration and prescription strength were also lower for this age group.

"These findings for young people are particularly worrisome, given that their decrease in buprenorphine treatment occurred during a period when there was an increase in opioid-related overdose deaths for this age group," says Olfson.

The researchers note that although overall rates of buprenorphine use are on the rise, they are still lower than national estimates of those with opioid use disorder (including prescription opioids and heroin).

"Our results highlight the critical need to improve buprenorphine treatment services, especially for the youngest with opioid use disorder," says Olfson.
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More Information

The article is titled, "Trends in buprenorphine treatment in the United States, 2009-2018."

The other authors are Victoria (Shu) Zhang (Yale University, New Haven, CT), Michael Schoenbaum (National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, MD), and Marissa King (Yale).

The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01 DA044981).

The authors report no financial or other conflicts of interest.

The Columbia University Department of Psychiatry is among the top ranked psychiatry departments in the nation and has contributed greatly to the understanding and treatment of brain disorders. Co-located at the New York State Psychiatric Institute on the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Irving Medical Center campus in Washington Heights, the department enjoys a rich and productive collaborative relationship with physicians in various disciplines at the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. Columbia Psychiatry is home to distinguished clinicians and researchers noted for their clinical and research advances in the diagnosis and treatment of depression, suicide, schizophrenia, bipolar and anxiety disorders, eating disorders, substance use disorders, and childhood psychiatric disorders.

Columbia University Irving Medical Center provides international leadership in basic, preclinical, and clinical research; medical and health sciences education; and patient care. The medical center trains future leaders and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, public health professionals, dentists, and nurses at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Mailman School of Public Health, the College of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. Columbia University Irving Medical Center is home to the largest medical research enterprise in New York City and State and one of the largest faculty medical practices in the Northeast. For more information, visit cuimc.columbia.edu or columbiadoctors.org.

Columbia University Irving Medical Center

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