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Teens should be screened for substance abuse

Substance-abuse education and screening should be a part of almost every visit between a doctor and an adolescent, the nation’s leading pediatricians said Monday.

In a statement published in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics, members of the American Academy of Pediatrics said doctors can use a variety of screening tools to inquire into a teen’s use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

The statement argues that no level of experimentation with drugs is safe.

“Although it is common for adolescents and young adults to try mood-altering chemicals, including nicotine, it is important that this experimentation not be condoned, facilitated, or trivialized by adults, including parents, teachers and health-care providers,” they said.

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The policy statement notes that doctors should ask about substance use at all kinds of visits. Studies show that teens are more likely to divulge substance use at visits that are for some type of illness or urgent problem rather than at annual well-care visits.

The paper details numerous screening and education tools, strategies and resources that doctors can use to implement a substance-use screening program. Included is the interesting, Contract for Life, which was developed by Students Against Destructive Decisions. The contract is essentially a safety plan that teens can use along with a parent, doctor or other responsible adult.

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