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Clinical potential of methylphenidate in the treatment of cocaine addiction: a review of the current evidence

Authors Dürsteler K, Berger E, Strasser J, Caflisch C, Mutschler J, Herdener M, Vogel M

Received 23 December 2014

Accepted for publication 6 March 2015

Published 17 June 2015 Volume 2015:6 Pages 61—74

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/SAR.S50807

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 4

Editor who approved publication: Professor Li-Tzy Wu


Kenneth M Dürsteler,1,2 Eva-Maria Berger,1 Johannes Strasser,1 Carlo Caflisch,2 Jochen Mutschler,2 Marcus Herdener,2 Marc Vogel1

1Center for Addictive Disorders, Psychiatric University Clinics Basel, Basel, Switzerland; 2Center for Addictive Disorders, Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, Psychiatric Hospital, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

Background: Cocaine use continues to be a public health problem, yet there is no proven effective pharmacotherapy for cocaine dependence. A promising approach to treating cocaine dependence may be agonist-replacement therapy, which is already used effectively in the treatment of opioid and tobacco dependence. The replacement approach for cocaine dependence posits that administration of a long-acting stimulant medication should normalize the neurochemical and behavioral perturbations resulting from chronic cocaine use. One potential medication to be substituted for cocaine is methylphenidate (MPH), as this stimulant possesses pharmacobehavioral properties similar to those of cocaine.
Aim: To provide a qualitative review addressing the rationale for the use of MPH as a cocaine substitute and its clinical potential in the treatment of cocaine dependence.
Methods: We searched MEDLINE for clinical studies using MPH in patients with cocaine abuse/dependence and screened the bibliographies of the articles found for pertinent literature.
Results: MPH, like cocaine, increases synaptic dopamine by inhibiting dopamine reuptake. The discriminative properties, reinforcing potential, and subjective effects of MPH and cocaine are almost identical and, importantly, MPH has been found to substitute for cocaine in animals and human volunteers under laboratory conditions. When taken orally in therapeutic doses, its abuse liability, however, appears low, which is especially true for extended-release MPH preparations. Though there are promising data in the literature, mainly from case reports and open-label studies, the results of randomized controlled trials have been disappointing so far and do not corroborate the use of MPH as a substitute for cocaine dependence in patients without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Conclusion: Clinical studies evaluating MPH substitution for cocaine dependence have provided inconsistent findings. However, the negative findings may be explained by specific study characteristics, among them dosing, duration of treatment, or sample size. This needs to be considered when discussing the potential of MPH as replacement therapy for cocaine dependence. Finally, based on the results, we suggest possible directions for future research.

Keywords: agonist replacement, dependence, substitution

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