Conference Coverage

In methamphetamine use disorder, consider off-label drugs



– Its toll is obscured by the opioid crisis, but methamphetamine use is on the rise in the United States. There are no approved treatments for methamphetamine use, but a psychiatrist told colleagues that several off-label medications might prove helpful.

However, the evidence supporting the use of these medications for patients taking methamphetamine is not robust, “and none are even close to [Food and Drug Administration] approval,” said Larissa J. Mooney, MD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, and the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. “But if I use something that’s approved for depression or might be helpful for anxiety symptoms, maybe it would also help reduce their likelihood of relapse in conjunction with an evidence-based behavioral program or treatment with a therapist.”

Dr. Mooney, who spoke at the annual Psych Congress, highlighted a federal report estimating that 0.4% of people aged 18-25 in 2017 used the drug within the past month, compared with 0.3% of those aged 26 and higher.

There were about 758,000 current adult users of methamphetamine in 2017, the report found.

Meanwhile, concurrent use of methamphetamine among patients who use opioids chronically has almost doubled, to 34% in 2017, from 19% in 2011 (Drug Alcohol Depend. 2018 Dec 1;193:14-20). And, Dr. Mooney said, deaths from stimulants are rising, even independent of opioid deaths.

Stimulant users typically have other psychiatric conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and concentration problems, Dr. Mooney said. In those cases, she said, treating those conditions might help with the substance use, too.

For methamphetamine use disorder, she highlighted some medications that might be helpful, although, again, she cautioned that evidence is not strong:

  • Bupropion (Wellbutrin). Research suggests that this drug is more effective in patients with less severe methamphetamine use disorder, Dr. Mooney said. “It’s a more stimulating antidepressant, and can be helpful with concentration and attention.”
  • Mirtazapine (Remeron). “I keep it in my list of options for some [who are] really anxious and not sleeping well,” she said. “It might be beneficial.”
  • Naltrexone (ReVia, Depade, Vivitrol). “There are some early signs of efficacy,” she said, and a randomized, controlled trial is in progress.
  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta) and topiramate (Topamax). There’s “low-strength” evidence that the drugs can be helpful and lower use of methamphetamine, she said. However, methylphenidate is a stimulant. There’s controversy over the use of stimulants to treat patients with substance use disorders, Dr. Mooney said, and she tends to be conservative about their use in this population.

Why not use them to treat methamphetamine users in the same way that opioids such as methadone are used to treat opioid use addiction? “We don’t have an equivalent stimulant that works in the same way,” she said. “They don’t stay in the system for 24 hours. If you take a prescription stimulant, by the end of the day it wears off. It won’t stay in the same way as agonist treatments for opioid disorder.”

Even so, she said, “it makes sense that stimulants might be helpful.”

Dr. Mooney disclosed an advisory board relationship with Alkermes and grant/research support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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