Can Minors Receive Suboxone Treatment?

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets rules about prescription use. Per the FDA, Suboxone is only approved for patients 16 years and older.

In 2016, about 4% of high school students misused opioids.[1] Since these drugs are so powerful, they can alter brain chemistry in devastating ways. Many of these young people will develop opioid use disorders (OUDs) and some are doing so at very young ages.

Some experts believe all teens with OUDs should have access to medications like Suboxone. Some doctors also have experience treating much younger individuals with OUD. While a prescriber can technically prescribe Suboxone to a patient younger than 16 years with parental permission, few providers have experience doing so and it would likely be difficult to find a provider that is currently treating adolescents with this medication. 

Why is Suboxone only used in patients 16 years or older?

The FDA hasn't determined if Suboxone is safe to use in people younger than 16 mostly because the studies that have been done have all been in patients 16 years or older. [2]

Suboxone is a Schedule III narcotic, and it's tightly controlled by officials.[3] It is also a relatively new medication with some significant side effects, and few doctors have experience providing it to younger individuals. 

What Could Happen if Minors Use Suboxone?

It is likely that Suboxone would be safe, or at least as safe in younger teens as it is in adults. However, without more research, we cannot definitively say what effects it might have in developing teens, particularly on their brains.

Moreover, Suboxone can cause severe respiratory depression in young people [2] 

What Treatment Options Are Available for Teens With OUD? 

Some experts want to give teens access to medications like Suboxone regardless of their age.[5] Particularly in severe or extreme cases, some doctors may feel comfortable prescribing Suboxone to teens younger than 16 years old. While there may be risks, the benefits might outweigh those risks in teens with severe cases. If parents and their teens decided to pursue MAT for their teen less than 16 years old, they should ensure they have a close relationship with a provider that they are comfortable with and who is available for close monitoring during treatment.

In addition, the same resources that are recommended for adult patients with OUD are recommended for teens with OUD, including psychosocial support and behavioral health services.

These resources can help families get more information:

Youth.gov: Connect with a program directory database for additional assistance.

Sources

  1. Opioids. Youth.gov. https://youth.gov/youth-topics/substance-abuse/opioids. Accessed July 2022.
  2. Suboxone Prescribing Information. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2010/022410s000lbl.pdf. August 2010. Accessed July 2022.
  3. Buprenorphine. Drug Enforcement Administration. https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/buprenorphine.pdf. May 2022. Accessed July 2022.
  4. Growth and Your 13- to 18-Year-Old. Nemours. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/growth-13-to-18.html. June 2019. Accessed July 2022.
  5. Medication for Adolescents and Young Adults With Opioid Use Disorder. Journal of Adolescent Health. https://www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X(20)30848-X/fulltext. March 2021. Accessed July 2022.
  6. SAMHSA's National Helpline. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline. March 2022. Accessed July 2022.
  7. Substance Use Resource Center. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. https://www.aacap.org/aacap/Families_and_Youth/Resource_Centers/Substance_Use_Resource_Center/Home.aspx. July 2022. Accessed July 2022.
  8. Federal Resources. Youth.gov. https://youth.gov/youth-topics/substance-abuse/federal-youth-substance-abuse-resources. Accessed July 2022.

Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where she works as a primary care physician as well as part time in pain management and integrated health. Her clinical interests include underserved health care, chronic pain and integrated/alternative health.

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