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Teens Undertreated for Substance Abuse

Therapy gap likely driven by limited availability of adolescent-only services

MONDAY, March 2, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Only about 10 percent of the 1.4 million American teens with substance abuse problems receive treatment, according to a new study.

"Part of this treatment gap may be driven by the limited availability of adolescent-only treatment services. Less than one-third of addiction programs in the U.S. have a specialized program for adolescents," study author Hannah Knudsen, of the University of Kentucky, said in a news release from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded the research.

"Despite the public health significance of adolescent substance abuse and the knowledge that treatment can be effective for this group, services for them are less available than for adults. It means we lose our chance at early intervention, and that families may be unable to find services for their children in their communities," Knudsen said.

She also found wide variations in quality among the randomly selected 154 addiction treatment programs for teens she studied. Knudsen analyzed nine areas of quality, including whether families are encouraged to be involved in a teen's treatment process and whether a program offers a range of comprehensive services. Only a small number of the programs scored high in each area, and most received a medium score in overall quality.

"The lack of comprehensive services in substance abuse programs for teens raises questions about whether teens will get what they need, since we know they are likely to have co-occurring psychiatric conditions and to engage in HIV-risk behaviors," Knudsen said.

She noted that quality scores tended to be higher for programs that offered more intensive treatment services, such as residential or inpatient treatment. But only 30 percent of programs offered such services.

"For parents who are looking for high-quality programs that offer the most comprehensive array of services, a good proxy indicator is whether that organization has an inpatient or residential level of care," Knudsen said.

The study was published in the March issue of the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.

More information

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has more about substance abuse programs for teens.

SOURCE: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, news release, March 2, 2009
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