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Teen girls less successful than boys at quitting meth in UCLA pilot research study

Date: 04/30/2013
Contact: Enrique Rivero

Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine
(Photo courtesy of U.S.
Department of Justice)

A UCLA-led study of adolescents receiving treatment for methamphetamine dependence has found that girls are more likely to continue using the drug during treatment than boys, suggesting that new approaches are needed for treating meth abuse among teen girls.

Results from the study, conducted by the UCLA Center for Behavioral and Addiction Medicine and the community-based substance abuse treatment program Behavioral Health Services Inc., are published in the April edition of the Journal of Adolescent Health. 

"The greater severity of methamphetamine problems in adolescent girls compared to boys, combined with results of studies in adults that also found women to be more susceptible to methamphetamine than men, suggests that the gender differences in methamphetamine addiction observed in adults may actually begin in adolescence," said the study's lead author, Dr. Keith Heinzerling, a health sciences assistant clinical professor of family medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

The clinical trial focused on use of the antidepressant bupropion for treating methamphetamine addiction. Nineteen adolescents — nine boys and 10 girls — with meth addiction who were receiving counseling at Behavioral Health Services were given either bupropion or placebo pills. The average age of participants was approximately 17.5 years.

Dr. Keith Heinzerling


Dr. Keith Heinzerling
The researchers found that the study subjects who received the antidepressant provided significantly fewer meth-free urine samples than those who were given placebos, suggesting that bupropion was an ineffective treatment for addiction in this small sample.

Overall, boys in both groups provided more than twice as many meth-free urine drug tests during treatment as girls in both groups. 

While the results did not support continued research into the use of bupropion for methamphetamine addiction, they did suggest the need for research to develop new interventions to improve the outcomes of treatment for addiction in adolescent girls, the researchers said.

Heinzerling noted the importance of collaborations such as the one between UCLA and Behavioral Health Services.

"It shows that partnerships between researchers and community organizations are critical to insuring that research is translated into improvements in the health of real people," he said.

Additional researchers on the study included Janette Gadzhyan, James McCracken and Steven Shoptaw, all of UCLA, and Henry van Oudheusden and Felipe Rodriguez of Behavioral Health Services Inc.

The research was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (grant 5 R21 DA26513).

Behavioral Health Services Inc. is a not-for-profit community-based health care organization providing substance abuse, mental health, drug-free transitional living, older adult, HIV/AIDS education and prevention, and related health services to the residents of Southern California.

The UCLA Center for Behavioral and Addiction Medicine aims to advance the prevention and treatment of chronic illnesses, especially in communities with health care disparities. This includes internationally recognized research to advance the science behind addiction medicine in order to develop safer and more effective treatments for addiction. Treatment for methamphetamine addiction is available through the center at its clinics in Santa Monica and Hollywood.

The UCLA Department of Family Medicine provides comprehensive primary care to entire families from newborns to seniors. It provides low risk obstetrical services and prenatal and inpatient care at UCLA Medical Center Santa Monica, and outpatient care at the University Family Health Center in Santa Monica and the Mid-Valley Family Health Center, which is located in a Los Angeles County Health Center in Van Nuys, Calif. The department is also a leader in family medicine education, for both medical students and residents, and houses a significant research unit focusing on health care disparities among immigrant families and minority communities and other underserved populations in Los Angeles and California.