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Crack Cocaine Use in Adolescents: Clinical Characteristics and Predictors of Early Initiation

J Clin Psychiatry 2016;77(10):e1205–e1210
10.4088/JCP.15m09894

Objective: To describe the clinical characteristics of adolescents with crack cocaine dependence and possible predictors of transition from drug experimentation to crack cocaine dependence.

Methods: This cross-sectional study enrolled a consecutive sample of 90 adolescents admitted to a psychiatric inpatient unit in the city of Porto Alegre in southern Brazil for crack cocaine detoxification between May 2011 and November 2012. Comorbid psychological conditions were assessed using the Kiddie-SADS-Present and Lifetime Version, and severity of drug use was assessed using the Teen Addiction Severity Index (T-ASI). Comorbidities were compared with those in a community sample of non–drug using controls (n = 81).

Results: Patients’ mean age was 15.6 years (85.6% boys, 14.4% girls). Seventy-nine (93.2%) met criteria for cocaine dependence (DSM-IV-TR), while 78 (91.8%) had symptoms consistent with cocaine abuse. All patients had experimented with at least 1 other addictive substance before crack cocaine: 61.4%, tobacco (mean age at first use = 11.61 years); 44.3%, alcohol (age at first use = 12.43 years); and 54.5%, cannabis (age at first use = 12.15 years). Patients had used crack cocaine 23.2 days in the last month, and the mean age at first use of crack cocaine was 13.38 years. The most common psychiatric comorbidity was conduct disorder (81.8%), followed by oppositional defiant disorder (52.3%) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (44.3%), all of which were more prevalent in the patient population than in controls (P < .001). The T-ASI questionnaire showed severe consequences of drug use in most areas of life assessed. The mean time between onset of drug experimentation and crack cocaine dependence was 2.53 (SD = 1.96) years. When Cox regression models were applied, we found that predictors of earlier progression to using crack cocaine were age at first use of any drug (hazard ratio [HR] = 0.79 [95% CI, 0.71–0.88]; P < .001) and age at admission (HR = 0.7 [95% CI, 0.57–0.87]; P = .001).

Conclusions: Patients were found to have a multitude of comorbid conditions, which supports the idea of treatment by a multidisciplinary health care team. For each year of delay in the age at first drug use, the chance of crack cocaine initiation is reduced by 18%. Prevention programs aimed at delaying experimentation with addictive substances, especially “gateway” drugs, could delay the progression to crack cocaine dependence.