Evidence-Based Reviews

Opioid use disorder in adolescents: An overview

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In recent years, deaths from drug overdose have increased for all age groups; however, limited data is available regarding adolescent overdose deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 2015 to 2016, drug overdose death rates for persons age 15 to 24 increased to 28%.9

How opioids work

Opioids activate specific transmembrane neuro­transmitter receptors, including mu, kappa, and delta, in the CNS and peripheral nervous system (PNS). This leads to activation of G protein–mediated intracellular signal transduction. Mainly it is activation of endogenous mu opioid receptors that mediates the reward, withdrawal, and analgesic effects of opioids. These effects depend on the location of mu receptors. In the CNS, activation of mu opioid receptors may cause miosis, respiratory depression, euphoria, and analgesia.10

Different opioids vary in terms of their half-life; for most opioids, the half-life ranges from 2 to 4 hours.10 Heroin has a half-life of 30 minutes, but due to active metabolites its duration of action is 4 to 5 hours. Opioid metabolites can be detected in urine toxicology within approximately 1 to 2 days since last use.10

Chronic opioid use is associated with neurologic effects that change the function of areas of the brain that control pleasure/reward, stress, decision-making, and more. This leads to cravings, continued substance use, and dependence.11 After continued long-term use, patients report decreased euphoria, but typically they continue to use opioids to avoid withdrawal symptoms or worsening mood.

DSM-5 criteria for opioid use disorder

Criteria for opioid use disorder

In DSM-5, substance use disorders (SUDs)are no longer categorized as abuse or dependence.12 For opioids, the diagnosis is OUD. The Table12 outlines the DSM-5 criteria for OUD. Craving opioids is included for the first time in the OUD diagnosis. Having problems with the legal system is no longer considered a diagnostic criterion for OUD.

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