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The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which issues guidelines for doctors, recently reviewed studies on brief counseling sessions during an office visit to determine whether they can be deemed effective in preventing future drug or alcohol use in kids and teens. In March, the task force stated they didn’t find enough reliable studies, and therefore could not make a firm recommendation on the effectiveness of “brief interventions.”
Despite the panel’s conclusion that there isn’t enough evidence surrounding the best way for doctors to persuade children and teens not to use drugs, a prominent expert on teen substance abuse says doctors should still talk to their young patients about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. “Given what we know about the impact of drugs, alcohol and tobacco on health and the developing teen brain, it’s hard to believe any pediatrician would say we shouldn’t address substance use in adolescent primary care,” said Sharon Levy, MD, Director of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Boston Children’s Hospital and Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee on Substance Abuse.
Dr. Levy goes on to explain that the findings of the government panel don’t oppose the practice of discussing the topic in medical care. While there is sufficient evidence to prove brief interventions reduce high-risk alcohol use in adults, there have been few studies focused on the same interventions with kids and teens in primary care.
Whether interventions in teens are found to be effective or not, screening will always be important. “Drugs and alcohol use impacts a patient’s health in many ways, and a pediatrician needs to know about it, because it can impact treatment or other recommendations,” added Levy. For example, habitual alcohol use in a patient can affect the teen’s management of chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, and can be dangerous for a young person prescribed a number of medications.
Brief counseling sessions in medical care are still considered an opportunity to, at the least, educate young people about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. Even if the best way to prevent teen use has not been established, it is still an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.