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Study: Even insured, addicted youth not receiving medications

The connection between crime and drug addiction seems inescapable, yet young people who are addicted to opioids may not be receiving the most effective treatment, according to a recent study.

"Young people may be dying because they are not getting the treatment they need," said one of the study's authors, an addiction researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The study, which appeared in JAMA Pediatrics, considered the medical records of some 21,000 patients between the ages of 13 and 25 who were insured by UnitedHealthcare from 2001 to 2014, when addiction rates were soaring. All of those patients were diagnosed as being addicted to opioids, but only 27 percent were given either of two medications used to curb cravings: buprenorphine and naltrexone.

Both of the medications are approved by the American Academy of Pediatrics to help youthful patients cope with cravings while they deal with the underlying addiction with therapy.

Why aren't young people getting these treatments?

According to the study, as reported by the Associated Press, it's not entirely clear. The treatments are somewhat costly, although they appear to be covered by insurance. Buprenorphine, often prescribed as Suboxone, is a daily medication that costs about $100 per month. Naltrexone, often sold under the brand name Vivitrol, is given monthly at a cost of about $1,000.

Doctors may lack familiarity with the medications, or they may not have the DEA waiver required to prescribe buprenorphine, which also requires special training. They may be concerned about the side effects of naltrexone, which should only be given to patients once they've gotten completely off of opioids.

Another possibility is doctor bias. The researchers found that females, African-Americans and Hispanics were even less likely than white males to receive the medications. However, that could also indicate that some groups have less access to care, even though they're insured by the same company.

More needs to be done to ensure that those who need treatment are getting the appropriate medications.

If you or someone you love has been arrested and suffers from addiction, we recommend talking with a lawyer who can help you access appropriate treatment, which can make a real difference in your criminal case.

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