Evidence-Based Reviews

Opioid use disorder in adolescents: An overview

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Personal Experience Screening Question­naire (PESQ) is a brief, 40-item, cost-effective, self-report questionnaire that can help identify adolescents (age 12 to 18) who should be referred for further evaluation.30

Addressing treatment expectations

For an adolescent with OUD, treatment should begin in the least restrictive environment that is perceived as safe for the patient. An adolescent’s readiness and motivation to achieve and maintain abstinence are crucial. Treatment planning should include the adolescent as well as his/her family to ensure they are able to verbalize their expectations. Start with a definitive treatment plan that addresses an individual’s needs. The plan should provide structure and an understanding of treatment expectations. The treatment team should clarify the realistic plan and goals based on empirical and clinical evidence. Treatment goals should include interventions to strengthen interpersonal relationships and assist with rehabilitation, such as establishing academic and/or vocational goals. Addressing readiness and working on a patient’s motivation is extremely important for most of these interventions.

In order for any intervention to be successful, clinicians need to establish and foster rapport with the adolescent. By law, substance use or behaviors related to substance use are not allowed to be shared outside the patient-clinician relationship, unless the adolescent gives consent or there are concerns that such behaviors might put the patient or others at risk. It is important to prime the adolescent and help them understand that any information pertaining to their safety or the safety of others may need to be shared outside the patient-clinician relationship.

Choosing an intervention

Less than 50% of a nationally representative sample of 345 addiction treatment programs serving adolescents and adults offer medications for treating OUD.31 Even in programs that offer pharmacotherapy, medications are significantly underutilized. Fewer than 30% of patients in addiction treatment programs receive medication, compared with 74% of patients receiving treatment for other mental health disorders.31 A review of the literature on adolescent treatment outcomes concluded that any form of treatment (psychotherapy with or without medication) is better than no treatment.32,33

Psychotherapy may be used to treat OUD in adolescents. Several family therapies have been studied and are considered as critical psychotherapeutic interventions for treating SUDs, including structural family treatment and functional family therapy approaches.34 An integrated behavioral and family therapy model is also recommended for adolescent patients with SUDs. Cognitive distortions and use of self-deprecatory statements are common among adolescents.35 Therefore, using approaches of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), or CBT plus motivational enhancement therapy, also might be effective for this population.36 The adolescent community reinforcement approach (A-CRA) is a behavioral treatment designed to help adolescents and their families learn how to lead a healthy and happy life without the use of drugs or alcohol by increasing access to social, familial, and educational/vocational reinforcers. Support groups and peer and family support should be encouraged as adjuncts to other interventions. In some areas, sober housing options for adolescents are also available.

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