The scientific literature examining effective treatments for opioid-dependent adults clearly indicates that pharmacotherapy is a necessary and acceptable component. Nevertheless, no reviews have been published that systematically assess the effectiveness of pharmacological maintenance treatment in adolescents.
To assess the effectiveness of any maintenance treatment alone or in combination with psychosocial intervention compared to no intervention, other pharmacological intervention or psychosocial interventions for retaining adolescents in treatment, reducing the use of substances and improving health and social status.
We searched the Cochrane Drugs and Alcohol Group's Trials Register (January 2014), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (2014, Issue 1), PubMed (January 1966 to January 2014), EMBASE (January 1980 to January 2014), CINAHL (January 1982 to January 2014), Web of Science (1991 to January 2014) and reference lists of articles.
Randomised and controlled clinical trials of any maintenance pharmacological interventions either alone or associated with psychosocial intervention compared with no intervention, placebo, other pharmacological intervention, pharmacological detoxification or psychosocial intervention in adolescents (13 to 18 years).
Data collection and analysis
We used the standard methodological procedures expected by The Cochrane Collaboration.
We included two trials involving 189 participants. One study, with 35 participants, compared methadone with levo-alpha-acetylmethadol (LAAM) for maintenance treatment lasting 16 weeks, after which patients were detoxified. The other study, with 154 participants, compared maintenance treatment with buprenorphine-naloxone and detoxification with buprenorphine. We did not perform meta-analysis because the two studies assessed different comparisons.
In the study comparing methadone and LAAM, the authors declared that there was no difference in the use of a substance of abuse or social functioning (data not shown). The quality of the evidence was very low. No side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, weakness or fatigue, were reported by study participants.
In the comparison between buprenorphine maintenance and buprenorphine detoxification, maintenance treatment appeared to be more efficacious in retaining patients in treatment (drop-out risk ratio (RR) 0.37; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.26 to 0.54), but not in reducing the number of patients with a positive urine test at the end of the study (RR 0.97; 95% CI 0.78 to 1.22). Self reported opioid use at one-year follow-up was significantly lower in the maintenance group, even though both groups reported a high level of opioid use (RR 0.73; 95% CI 0.57 to 0.95). More patients in the maintenance group were enrolled in other addiction treatment programmes at 12-month follow-up (RR 1.33; 95% CI 0.94 to 1.88). The quality of the evidence was low. No serious side effects attributable to buprenorphine-naloxone were reported by study participants and no patients were removed from the study due to side effects. The most common side effect was headache, which was reported by 16% to 21% of patients in both groups
It is difficult to draft conclusions on the basis of only two trials. One of the possible reasons for the lack of evidence could be the difficulty of conducting trials with young people for practical and ethical reasons.
There is an urgent need for further randomised controlled trials comparing maintenance treatment with detoxification treatment or psychosocial treatment alone before carrying out studies that compare different pharmacological maintenance treatments. These studies should have long follow-up and measure relapse rates after the end of treatment and social functioning (integration at school or at work, family relationships).