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Medicine therapy for opiate abuse

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

New research from the University of Pennsylvania has opened a discussion about the best way to treat young people who abuse heroin or prescription pain killers.


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When young addicts begin drug treatment, they’re commonly first treated with a short course of medication to ease withdrawal symptoms. After detox, doctors typically switch patients from medicine therapy to counseling.

Woody: There’s, sort of, a general belief that the problem is that they are taking drugs and the cure is to have them not take drugs.

But Penn psychiatrist George Woody says his study found improved health outcomes when patients continued taking medication for six or eight weeks, alongside talk therapy.

Woody: Keeping them on the medication knocked down the opiate use substantially.

About 60 percent of the group who stopped medication after detox tested positive for opiates while just 20 percent of patients who stayed on medication showed signs of returning to their addiction.

Woody: And associated with that was less injecting behavior, less need for additional treatment, less cocaine use, less marijuana use.

Also, he says the young addicts who continued medicine therapy kept twice as many appointments with counselors.

The patients in the study were ages 15 to 21. The medicine tested was a common drug combination, including buprenorphine, which makes it difficult for a person to feel the effects of heroin and other drugs.

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