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Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2012 Jun;35(2):425-39. doi: 10.1016/j.psc.2012.03.012. Epub 2012 Apr 26.

Psychostimulant treatment of cocaine dependence.

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  • 1Division of Substance Abuse, New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, NY 10032, USA.


The use of stimulant medications for the treatment of cocaine dependence is an evolving scientific line of research. To date, the most promising results are with the higher-potency medications, the amphetamine analogues, or a combination of a dopaminergic medication with a contingency management behavioral intervention. The development of effective pharmacotherapies for opioid and nicotine dependence using an agonist replacement approach suggests that these promising findings needs to continue to be vigorously investigated. In clinical trial reports, there are very few instances of cardiovascular adverse events, which suggests that for well-selected patients with cocaine dependence, stimulant replacement therapy can be safe. However, clinical trial eligibility criteria excludes most high-risk patients from participating, and introducing stimulant substitution to the wider treatment community would likely expose more vulnerable patients to the medical risks associated with stimulant treatment while using cocaine. As treatment development research moves forward, attention must be paid to helping clinicians select patients who are most likely to benefit from stimulant substitution treatment and how to identify those at risk. An additional concern with the use of stimulant medication treatment of cocaine dependence is prescribing controlled substances for patients with active substance use disorders. Again, within a clinical trial, medication supplies are monitored and distributed carefully in small quantities. In a community setting, misuse or diversion will be risks associated with prescribing controlled substances to patients with addictive disorders, but therapeutic strategies for monitoring and limiting that risk can be implemented. Psychostimulant pharmacotherapy is a promising line of research for the treatment of cocaine dependence, a condition for which no effective pharmacotherapy has been identified. Further research is required to confirm positive results from single-site trials, in particular the study of amphetamines as a treatment for cocaine dependence. As this literature evolves, strategies to manage the risk of prescribing controlled substances to patients with addictive disorders need to be tested and refined. Biases against using controlled substances as a treatment for cocaine dependence should be challenged, much in the way the use of agonist treatment transformed the treatment of opioid dependence despite initial resistance from the field.

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