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CNS Drugs. 2007;21(3):213-37.

Pharmacotherapy of dual substance abuse and dependence.

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  • 1Department of Community Health, Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.


The US FDA has approved a limited number of treatments for alcohol, nicotine and opioid dependence; however, no treatments for other abused drugs such as marijuana, cocaine or methamphetamine are approved. This review focuses on research into drug pharmacotherapies, particularly single-drug therapies, for substance abuse and dependence contributing to the most important dual substance use disorders (SUDs). Given the implications of poly-substance abuse, it is essential that clinicians and researchers be aware of potential pharmacotherapies for the treatment of dual SUDs.A substantial number of patients abuse more than one drug concurrently, complicating the treatment of SUD and leaving clinicians with few FDA-approved drug options for their patients. In this era of evidence-based medicine, such patients are typically treated with therapeutically proven medications, but in ways that are outside the scope of a drug's original indication by the FDA. Such 'off-label' prescribing has become an important therapeutic strategy for practitioners seeking treatments for other diseases in subpopulations such as paediatrics and gerontology or for medical conditions such as oncology or mental illness. Similarly, the information that most clinicians use to make their decisions for treating patients abusing multiple drugs stems from trials treating a single SUD, anecdotal experiences from their own practice or that of their colleagues, or single-case studies reported in the literature. The existing evidence suggests there are few treatments for SUDs that confer significant reductions in substance use across a broad patient population. Moreover, even fewer clinical efficacy trials have been conducted that provide evidence of therapeutic benefit for these drugs. Recognising the difficulty in making the proper drug choice for facilitating maximum treatment success, this review highlights the single drugs or drug combinations that show some potential for treating dual SUDs. This review finds strongest support for the use of disulfiram for treatment of alcohol and cocaine dependence (with or without concomitant methadone maintenance), baclofen for alcohol and cocaine dependence (but not opioid-dependent cocaine users), tiagabine for cocaine dependence in methadone-maintained patients, and topiramate for alcohol, nicotine and cocaine dependence. While ondansetron and olanzapine show some efficacy in treating alcohol and cocaine dependence, more research is needed to better delineate the subpopulation in which these drugs may provide their maximum effect.

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