HealthDay News — A computer-facilitated screening system along with advice from primary care health providers (cSBA) can help combat substance abuse among adolescents, study results suggest.

As recent news reports highlight concerns about prescription opioid and other substance abuse in this population, primary care health-care providers need effective strategies for substance use screening, Sion Kim Harris, PhD, from Harvard University in Boston, and colleagues, wrote online Pediatrics.

So they recruited 2,092 adolescents arriving for routine care at nine medical offices in New England and 589 teens from 10 offices in Prague, Czech Republic, to see whether the cSBA intervention could help reduce substance abuse in teens. Participants were aged 12 to 18 years old, and each site served as its own control. Patients completed measurements only during the initial treatment-as-usual study phase.

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After provider training, all cSBA participants completed a computerized screen, and then watched screening results, scientific information and true-life stories depicting substance use harms. Providers received screening results and “talking points” designed to prompt two to three minute conversations during which they offered patients brief advice.

In New England, participants in the intervention group reported less alcohol use at three months (15.5% vs. 22.9%, adjusted relative risk ratio [aRRR]=0.54; 95%CI: 0.38-0.77) and 12 months (29.3% vs. 37.5%; aRRR=0.73; 95% CI:0.57-0.92) compared with usual-care patients.

In Prague, those who participated in the sSBA intervention reported less cannabis use at three months (5.5% vs. 9.8%; aRRR=0.37; 95% CI:0.17-0.77) and 12 months (17% vs. 28.7%; aRRR=0.47; 95% CI:0.32-0.71).

“Computer-facilitated screening and provider brief advice appears promising for reducing substance use among adolescent primary care patients,” the researchers wrote.

Harris SK et al. Pediatrics. 2012; doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-1624.