Journal Article
Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
Review
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Pharmacological Treatment of Youth Substance Use Disorders.

While the majority of youth who experiment with alcohol and drugs do not develop problematic levels of use, 5% of adolescents and 15% of young adults meet criteria for a substance use disorder (SUD). Pharmacotherapy, in combination with behavioral interventions, has the potential to increase the likelihood of successful treatment for youth struggling with SUD; however, the literature in this area is limited. To date, there are no Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medications for adolescent SUD, other than buprenorphine, which has been approved down to 16 years of age for opioid use disorder. Despite alcohol and cannabis being the most commonly used substances during adolescence, only three medications have been tested among this demographic, and only two have warranted further study (i.e., naltrexone for alcohol and N -acetylcysteine for cannabis use disorder). Although less common in adolescents and young adults, the most promising pharmacological findings for this age group are for opioid (buprenorphine) and tobacco (bupropion and varenicline) use disorders. In addition, despite the recent marked increases in electronic nicotine delivery systems (i.e., vaping) among youth, treatment strategies are still in their infancy and no recommendation exists for how to promote cessation for youth vaping. Current findings are limited by: small, demographically homogeneous samples; few trials, including a substantial number of youth younger than 18; low retention; medication adherence rates; and minimal information on effective dosing levels and long-term outcomes. Overall, pharmacotherapy may be a potentially effective strategy to increase treatment effects; however, more rigorous research trials are warranted before FDA approval would be granted for any of the potential adjunctive medications in this age group.

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