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New Study Shows Opioid Treatment Medication Can Benefit Teens

Opioid pills spilling out of a prescription bottle onto a blue counter  

A new research review from Yale University found that for teen opioid abuse, the use of opioid treatment medication may be helpful. Researchers, who were led by Deepa Camenga M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Yale School of Medicine, looked through scientific literature to find evidence of the effects of opioid treatment medications on teens. The review found that teens with severe opioid use disorder may be able to be successfully treated with medications.

Opioid Epidemic in Teens

Sometimes teens are left out of the conversation surrounding the opioid epidemic, but teen prescription drug abuse is a serious issue. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, around 3.6% of young people aged 12 to 17 said they’d misused opioids over the previous year when surveyed in 2017. That number jumps significantly for older teens and young adults, however. Young adults 18 to 25 are the biggest users of opioid pain relievers. According to the Yale researchers surveying the literature, around 900 adolescents started to misuse opioid pain medications every day in 2017. Some of those young people ultimately turned to heroin.

Statistics on teenage prescription drug abuse to this point show that medication-assisted treatment is infrequently used for teens. The research review found that only 2% to 5% of teens who have an opioid use disorder received medication for it.

Teens and Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment is often the recommended course of treatment for adults, but less so for teens younger than 18. There were only 14 reports identified by the research team where teen prescription drug abuse was treated with opioid use disorder medications. The studies went on to show that the use of these medications increased the number of teens who remained in treatment. The use of the medications also appeared to decrease the teens’ use of opioids and increase their abstinence.

Camenga concluded that when an adolescent has a severe opioid use disorder, they may benefit from having medication as part of a more comprehensive addiction treatment plan. He went on to say that the dangers of untreated teen heroin use or opioid use in teens outweigh the risks of medications. The research team called for more to be looked at as far as how long teen patients should receive opioid medication-assisted treatment and how to keep them in treatment.

The recommendation from Camenga was that parents should try and work with a health care provider and perhaps an addiction medicine specialist to learn more about how these medicines could benefit their child.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, medication-assisted treatment or MAT is the use of medicines combined with behavioral therapy or counseling which can help treat opioid use disorders. There are three medications approved by the FDA for the treatment of opioid dependence. These are buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone. The FDA says all three have been proven to be safe and effective when paired with psychosocial support and counseling.

If your teen is struggling with addiction, Next Generation Village is here to help. Contact us today and find out about our comprehensive treatment options available.


National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Abuse of Prescription (Rx) Drugs Affects Young Adults Most.” February 2016. Accessed November 6, 2019.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Opioids and Adolescents.” May 13, 2019. Accessed November 6, 2019.

Kashef, Ziba. “Opioid Treatment for Teens? Medications Can Help.” Yale School of Medicine, September 11, 2019. Accessed November 6, 2019.

FDA. “Information About Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT).” February 14, 2019. Accessed November 6, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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