Prescription opioids, medication, antibiotics with many bottles of pills in the background. Concepts of addiction, opioid crisis, overdose and doctor shopping

(© Kimberly Boyles -

PORTLAND, Ore. — Most adolescent treatment centers in the United States are not providing a crucial medication for opioid use disorder, despite the increasing number of overdose deaths among young people due to illicit fentanyl, a new study reveals. The review, led by researchers at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), highlights the urgent need for better access to effective treatment in combating the overdose epidemic.

The study conducted involved cataloging treatment centers that serve adolescents in the U.S. They found that among the 160 residential treatment facilities they contacted, only 39 offered buprenorphine, with even fewer providing it for ongoing treatment. Shockingly, 27 treatment centers required adolescents to be off buprenorphine at admission, refusing to admit those receiving proven medication-assisted therapy.

“It is tragic to see that young people with opioid use disorder are unable to access buprenorphine in most treatment facilities, despite this medication being the standard of care for people aged 16 and older,” says Nora Volkow, M.D., director of NIDA, in a media release. “Residential treatment facilities provide an opportunity to reach young people with a range of evidence-based supports at a pivotal time in their lives, and it is crucial that buprenorphine is made available as one of those options.”

The lack of buprenorphine, a medication approved for treating opioid dependence, in these residential treatment centers, undermines efforts to address the rising overdose crisis, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. OHSU researchers aimed to understand how many adolescent treatment centers in the U.S. were offering buprenorphine, considering the vulnerability of young people to fentanyl-related overdoses.

Opioid crisis in the United States of America
(© Victor Moussa –

According to Caroline King, the lead author of the study, adolescent treatment centers should provide the best care for these vulnerable individuals. However, their research shows that only a quarter of the centers surveyed offer buprenorphine, the current standard of care for treating opioid use disorder.

Illicit fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, has contributed to a significant increase in overdose deaths among young people nationwide. The CDC data underscores the urgency of addressing this growing crisis and the critical role that buprenorphine plays in combatting opioid addiction.

How does buprenorphine work?

Buprenorphine works by normalizing brain function and targeting the same areas as prescription opioids, heroin, and fentanyl. It is the only medication approved for use in adolescents with opioid use disorder, making its underutilization in residential treatment centers a significant concern.

Although buprenorphine is not FDA-approved for individuals younger than 16, there is no evidence to suggest major safety concerns for its use in younger age groups. The American Society of Addiction Medicine supports considering buprenorphine as a treatment option for younger individuals with opioid use disorder.

Todd Korthuis, head of addiction medicine at OHSU, emphasizes the need to address the resistance some treatment providers have towards buprenorphine, as it is an essential treatment for healing the brains of those struggling with addiction. This can be achieved through education, technical assistance, increased funding for treatment centers, and raising public awareness about the necessity of buprenorphine as a treatment option.

The researchers highlight the challenges faced by parents seeking appropriate treatment for their children, as they often have to contact multiple facilities before finding one that offers buprenorphine. This lack of access to effective medication-assisted treatment exacerbates the opioid crisis among young people.

If you or someone you know needs help with substance abuse or mental health treatment, call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit for information on available programs in your area.

The findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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1 Comment

  1. D C M says:

    How did I get to be old without all these pain killers?