New Tool to Screen Teens for Substance Abuse

Addiction and substance abuse are on the rise in teens. A new electronic screening tool may be able to detect risk and addiction of substance abuse in adolescents, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The researchers hope to use the tool as part of routine medical care for teen patients.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that in 2013, 4 percent of 8th graders, 13 percent of 10th graders and 26 percent of 12th graders stated they had gotten drunk in the past month. Marijuana use remains high among adolescents, with 7 percent of 8th graders, 18 percent of 10th graders and 23 percent of 12th graders using marijuana in the past month before the study. Other illicit drug use remains low.

Lead study author Sharon Levy, M.D., M.P.H., of Boston Children’s Hospital, conducted the study. The researchers believe this tool will help intervene before an abuse becomes an addiction and help prevent drug overdoses. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes it is imperative to screen adolescents for drug use during a regular check-up.

Risk categorizing

This is not the first screening tool of its kind to test for substance abuse and addiction. However, none have used the tool to categorize adolescents on their level of risk for addiction and abuse to help discover the best method of intervention. The researchers created four categories to segregate the preteens and teens into non-tobacco substance abuse, substance abuse disorders, severe substance abuse disorders and tobacco dependence.

The participants ranged in age from 12 to 17. Each patient was planning on receiving regular medical care at one of two outpatient pediatric centers or a substance abuse treatment center at a pediatric hospital. The patients were evaluated using the screening tool from June 1, 2012, to March 31, 2013. The screening consisted of asking a question on using eight different types of drugs in the past year. If patients stated that they had used one or more of the drugs, more questions ensued. The researchers then had participants complete the Composite International Diagnostic Interview – Substance Abuse Module, a standard structured interview for detecting substance abuse. Depending on the answers, the researchers used the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to diagnose if needed.

The results

The researchers invited 340 patients to enter the study, and 216 did. The findings revealed that 58 percent of patients did not use substances in the past year, and 23 percent reported using substances but did not meet the criteria for a substance abuse disorder. Ten percent of patients met the criteria for mild substance abuse disorder and 19 percent met the criteria for severe substance abuse.

The researchers concluded that the substance abuse frequency screening questions was a good method for detecting risk of substance abuse and addiction and intervening if needed.

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