Pediatric use of buprenorphine has a piece advocating more use of buprenorphine with children.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for opioid dependence is a science-based and proven-effective option for teens and young adults. It should be administered with age appropriate psychosocial therapy and drug testing. Unfortunately, it has been subject to controversy and stigma. Yet the neuroscience of addiction and cravings helps explain why MAT, when properly used and overseen, can be truly life saving for adolescents, young adults, and their families. I see it working all the time. When kids come into treatment, their lives are just chaotic. Parents are desperate — they don’t know what to do or where to turn. The most important thing is to bring stability into the situation, and the best way to do that is with medication.


So now we’re expanding the notion of incapacitating long-term brain changes to adolescents? Who have been using in what quantities? And, for how long? (Apparantly the only people with brains that aren’t permanently disabled by opiate addiction are health professionals. They get abstinence focused treatment and have outstanding outcomes.)

My first thought about the piece was, “Hey, at least he provides some actual numbers.” However, upon closer examination, though the numbers give the appearance of an accountable professional engaging in informed consent, something’s not kosher here.

In our highly-structured program at Boston Children’s Hospital about a third of the children remain completely free from any alcohol and drug use. About another third remain free from opioid use but they might have an occasional slip on alcohol or marijuana. (We tend to not approve of that behavior and keep working with them). And the remaining third, particularly early on, will try opioids once or twice. But even after those early slips they show dramatic improvement over time.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t provide any timeframe. AND, stop and think about the numbers he offered:

  • 1/3 free of alcohol and drug use
  • 1/3 use no opioids but occasionally use alcohol or marijuana
  • 1/3 use opioids “once or twice”

1/3 + 1/3 + 1/3 = 100%

He is saying that approximately 100% will not use opioids 3 or more times? This is an eminent physician at a prestigious institution. He has been a Principal Investigator of studies on adolescent substance abuse funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

This assertion is so obviously implausible that it should provoke deep skepticism about the people upheld as experts, the funding priorities of government agencies and the biases built into what become “evidence-based practices.” (Remember “no hint of opinion“?)

As you read the comments, you’ll find people complaining about the methadone not being included. (Methadone for adolescents!)

You’ll find one comment, from a physician, explaining that, “Dr. Knight works with adolescents, with most of his patients under age 16, where methadone cannot legally be used (under 18 can be used with parental consent).”

The author’s finger wagging, very certain tone is regarding the use of Suboxone with patients under the age of 16.

I can imagine circumstances where the best path is not crystal clear (I’m thinking of youth that are highly resistant to treatment and at high risk for fatal OD.) but the question any family has to ask is, “How do we want my loved one to return too us?”

Here are Earl Hightower and Anna David:

AD: Should the parents just accept the first recommendation or should they ask for more?
EH: I think the first question they should ask should be one they ask themselves, which is how they want their son to return.

AD: What does that mean?

EH: Well, the majority of the treatment centers out there are 12-step based, which means that the goal for them is for their clients to achieve abstinence. This would be the choice to make if the parents want to get their son back in the same condition that he was in before he got on drugs: drug-free.

AD: But you can’t say for certain that a 19-year-old who was doing Oxy for nine months is definitely an addict who will need 12-step.

EH: You can’t. Maybe he was just dabbling; treatment would be able to help determine that. But maybe treatment will prove something else—maybe treatment will prove that this wasn’t an isolated incident. Maybe he’ll get in there and confess that he’s been using pot since he was 12 and maybe other conversations will turn up the fact that there’s a genetic predisposition toward addiction in the family. And if that’s the case, I believe he will need community-based support in staying clean once he returns home. It could go either way: good ongoing clinical assessment is the backbone of early treatment to determine the direction of care.

AD: But not all rehabs recommend 12-step or even full abstinence.

EH: Yes. And that’s why parents—people—need to know is that if an addict is going to a facility which subscribes to medication-assisted treatment and recovery, the goal is different. Loved ones need to know what medication-assisted treatment really means, which is that treatment will be radically re-defined and their child could be put on a medication which he would remain on for a long time, if not the rest of his life.

AD: So that’s what you mean when you talk about parents asking themselves how they want their child to return.

EH: Yes. But I can tell you from 30 years of doing this work that most parents want their child to come home drug-free—or they at least they want a shot at that. But some members of the treatment community will tell parents—or the addicts themselves—that we have to let go of this notion of abstinence and move more in the direction of medication-assisted treatment. And that means that people who could thrive without being on anything at all are leaving treatment centers on very powerful opiate replacement drugs.

2 thoughts on “Pediatric use of buprenorphine

  1. It’s difficult to comment without reviewing the full article, ages, exclusion criteria, therapy, etc. I support MAT for adolescent Opioid abusers that are a) pre IV, b) relapsed pre IV and c) IV with all 3 non hep B or C, in order to get them past the first yr with a proven success at reduced relapse rates than non MAT patients for opioid treatment.
    The patient must be on a strict contract with after care including Urine Monitoring, 12-step w sponsor, 2 yr minimum agreement, and taper beginning after the first year, based upon completion of the 9th step and input from a psychiatrist addictionologist, including testing for co-occurring disorders.


Comments are closed.