Study reveals alarming lack of Buprenorphine in adolescent treatment centers amidst rising overdose deaths

Only one in four adolescent residential treatment centers in the United States provides buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid use disorder, according to a new study conducted by researchers at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study highlights the resistance to using buprenorphine despite the increasing number of overdose deaths among young people due to illicit fentanyl.

The researchers aimed to determine the availability of buprenorphine in adolescent treatment centers across the country, recognizing the vulnerability of young people in the face of the fentanyl epidemic. Lead author Dr. Caroline King emphasized the need for these centers to provide the best care for vulnerable adolescents, especially considering the rising fentanyl-related overdoses among this population.

Buprenorphine is an FDA-approved medication that normalizes brain function and treats opioid dependence. However, it is underused in facilities that care for adolescents with severe opioid use disorder.

Although buprenorphine is not approved for use in individuals under 16 in the U.S., the American Society of Addiction Medicine recommends considering it as a treatment option for opioid use disorder in younger people. Co-author Dr. Todd Korthuis emphasized the need to address the resistance to buprenorphine use, support treatment centers with education and resources, and raise public awareness about the importance of buprenorphine in healing brains.

The OHSU study involved cataloging treatment centers serving adolescents in the U.S., utilizing a database maintained by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Out of the 354 residential treatment centers identified, less than half served adolescents. Researchers contacted 160 facilities that provide residential treatment for adolescents, and their findings were as follows:

  • 39 facilities offered buprenorphine, with only 12 offering it to adolescents under 16.
  • Among the remaining 121 facilities, 57 indicated that adolescents prescribed buprenorphine by their own clinician could temporarily continue the medication, while 27 centers required adolescents to be off buprenorphine upon admission.
  • In summary, only one in four adolescent residential treatment centers offered buprenorphine, and even fewer provided it for ongoing treatment.

The study highlights the challenge faced by parents in finding treatment centers that offer buprenorphine, with an average of nine calls needed to find one on the SAMHSA list. To find a facility for an adolescent under 16, 29 calls would be necessary.