Kathryn Dalton, a Masters of Science student at Memorial University, is researching how brain development in youth impacts addiction therapy in the hope of improving addiction treatment plans for youth in our province.

She believes that addiction treatment plans for young adults in our province should reflect the fact that the human brain isn’t completely developed until the end of early adulthood.

“Individuals living with addictions have generally been offered similar treatments regardless of age. This ‘one size fits all’ approach to addiction medicine ignores recent insights into the developing brain of the young adult,” Dalton wrote.

Dalton explained that the period of brain development, which begins in adolescence, does not reach completion until a person is approximately 25 years old. Further, the regions of the brain involved in addictions are among the last regions of the brain to develop. She argues this suggests youth below the age of 25 need different treatment plans than older adults.

“Mental health and addictions health care delivery in Newfoundland and Labrador is often challenged by geography, adequate human resources, continuity of care, and transitions between pediatric and adult care,” Dalton wrote.

She pointed out that while there are two adult residential substance treatment facilities and a non-medicinal detoxification center in the province, there are no treatment centers specifically targeted to youth (12-18) or the young adult population (18-25).

“The reason I want to study the specific population of youth is because it appears that youth and young adults are not receiving targeted therapies for their development stage,” Dalton wrote.

Dalton is still in the preliminary stages of her research and recently completed a literature review focused on Suboxone, a new drug being used in the place of Methadone to treat opioid addiction.

“I was surprised to see how promising the new drug, Suboxone, is for addictions treatment. Because this is a new medication, I was not expecting to find so much positive research” Dalton wrote.

However, she noted that the evidence she found did not differentiate between the drug’s effect on young adults and more mature adults. In her research she hopes to focus on those differences and generate evidence that people designing and delivering treatment programs for young adults can use to help young people more safely and effectively.

“Development of appropriate treatment plans will help improve services and treatment for young adults living with addictions,” Dalton wrote.

In early December the provincial government announced that it would be making Suboxone more accessible to people undergoing addictions treatment in Newfoundland and Labrador. Suboxone is considered safer than Methadone because there is less of a risk of overdosing on the newer drug.

As of December, access to Suboxone no longer requires special authorization under the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Programme, a change that was made to help those who could benefit from the drug access it as early in their treatment plan as necessary.

While only a small number of doctors in the province prescribe Methadone, any doctor who has done online training through the College of Physicians and Surgeons can prescribe Suboxone. These developments make Dalton’s research on Suboxone very timely.