November 5, 2008

Young Addicts Quit Easier Thanks To Detox Drug

U.S. researchers reported Tuesday frequent use of a drug that alleviates withdrawal symptoms could help young people undergoing treatment for addiction to heroin or prescription painkillers.

The study found young addicts who took Reckitt Benckiser's drug Suboxone for 12 weeks were less likely to abuse drugs during treatment.

Researchers found they also stayed in treatment longer than those who underwent short-term detox and counseling.

Dr. George Woody of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia noted several treatment programs favor shorter-term detoxification and counseling for young people addicted to the drugs called opioids, but said drug treatment might be a more effective option.

Opioids include heroin, morphine and prescription pain killers such as Vicodin and Oxycontin.

"There is a hesitation to use medication," said Woody. The problem is that relapse rates in these programs are quite high, he said.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Suboxone, that carries the generic name of buprenorphine-naloxone, combines two drugs.

Buprenorphine takes away withdrawal symptoms, while naloxone deters abuse by causing an opioid addict to experience rapid withdrawal symptoms if it is taken improperly, such as by injection.

The researchers studied 152 addicts aged 15 to 21 for 12 weeks.

Patients in the Suboxone group got the drug for nine weeks, and then started tapering off until they were on no drug by week 12.

The second group received a lower dose of the drug that was tapered off after two weeks.

By week eight, 23 percent of people in the drug group had positive urine tests, compared with 54 percent who were off the drug.

"We found when they are on the drug as compared to when they were off, their opiate use was much less," Woody said.

Teenagers who continued to take Suboxone were less likely to use opioids, cocaine and marijuana, to inject drugs, or drop out of treatment than those who received short-term detoxification and counseling.

"These findings should reassure and encourage providers who have been hesitant to offer extended Suboxone treatment to this population," Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health, said in a statement.

"They also highlight the need for longer-term studies to determine whether sustained treatment can improve outcomes."


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