Treatment with the opioid addiction drug buprenorphine is on the rise among most age groups in the United States, but falling among 15- to 24-year-olds, a new study finds.
"While it's encouraging to see an overall increase in prescription rates for buprenorphine, the data suggest that the youngest group is having difficulty accessing this potentially lifesaving treatment," said study leader Dr. Mark Olfson. He's a professor of psychiatry, medicine and law at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City.
"These findings for young people are particularly worrisome, given that their decrease in buprenorphine treatment occurred during a period when there was an increase in opioid-related overdose deaths for this age group," Olfson said in a university news release.
Buprenorphine is a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved treatment for opioid addiction. The analysis of national data showed that its overall use more than doubled between 2009 and 2018 -- from 1.97 per 1,000 people to 4.43 per 1,000 people.
However, use of the medication fell by about 20% in the youngest group -- from 1.76 to 1.40 per 1,000 people.
Length of buprenorphine treatment and prescription strength were also lower among those aged 15 to 24 than among older Americans, the findings showed.
There are well-known barriers to getting the medication. To prescribe buprenorphine, providers have to go through training, apply for a waiver and agree to limits on the number of patients they will treat.
While overall rates of buprenorphine use are on the rise, they're still lower than national estimates of people addicted to opioids (including oxycodone and heroin), the study authors noted.
On average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Our results highlight the critical need to improve buprenorphine treatment services, especially for the youngest with opioid use disorder," Olfson said.
The study was published Jan. 21 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has more on buprenorphine.