New approaches to treat teens with substance abuse and mental health issues

By Aine Cryts

Substance abuse is a leading cause of death among adolescents. But primary care physicians who receive behavioral health training can help curb the trend, according to a new Kaiser Permanente study.

The study also concludes that better screening and intervention could be available if the industry embeds behavioral health specialists within the primary care environment.

These two approaches netted better results--such as interventions and referrals to mental health and addiction specialists--than the standard practice, with no additional training provided to physicians nor any additional behavioral health expertise within the practice, according to the two-year study of 5,000 patients between the ages of 12 and 18. The results of this study were published in JAMA Pediatrics.

"Our findings represent a necessary initial step in understanding patterns of implementation in pediatric primary care and can help us to identify the best approach to early and effective interventions to help teenagers address substance use," lead author Stacy Sterling of the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research said in an announcement. "Many teenagers who drink establish patterns of substance use that will follow them into adulthood, which is why early intervention is important."

When treating substance abuse, empathy matters, wrote psychotherapist Janna Malamud Smith in a recent commentary for Boston's WBUR. Rather than shaming and stigmatizing people with addiction, she recommends a multipronged approach, which includes:

  • Investing in high-class treatment facilities for those who can't afford it
  • Requiring pharmaceutical companies to contribute to addicts' treatment
  • Bringing treatment centers out into the open, instead of hidden within communities

Treating drug addiction as a chronic disease has been endorsed by many in both the medical and law enforcement communities, as previously reported in FiercePracticeManagement. Treating pregnant women with addiction to opioids also continues to be a challenge.

To learn more:
- read the study
- here's the announcement
- check out the commentary