Teens Lack Options in Substance Abuse Treatment | The Fix
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Teens Lack Options in Substance Abuse Treatment

Despite drug overdoses becoming one of the top killers of adolescents, teenagers still lack affordable access to drug treatment.



By Victoria Kim


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Though billions of state and federal dollars are poured into substance use and addiction every year, parents seeking treatment for adolescents are often left without many options.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the last five years drug overdoses have become among the top three killers of adolescents ages 15 to 19. Despite the growing prevalence of drug issues in this age group, resources for addiction treatment are difficult to locate, are expensive, and often fail to meet patient needs.

“There really aren’t places for kids to go,” said Samuel Ball, president and CEO of CASAColumbia, an organization that researches addiction and treatments. “As a parent you want your children to be treated in a highly reputable health care system that has [specialists] providing treatment that has been shown to be effective – kind of like what you would expect to see if your kid has cancer.”

Substance abuse treatment is not only rare in children’s hospitals, but state services also lack the resources to meet growing demand, according to Greg Fritz, president-elect of the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Hospitals have little incentive to provide such services. Addiction services within psychiatry are not only unprofitable, but they can cause hospitals to lose money due to the multiple levels of care that are involved in addiction treatment, from nursing staff to doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and more – resulting in tens of thousands of dollars in treatment cost.

Teens with a genetic predisposition to addiction tend to exhibit early signs such as impulsiveness, and neurosis or sensation-seeking behavior. As adolescents are at a crucial time for development, experts say early intervention is key.

“There is no other disorder or disease that is as under-treated in adolescents as substance use disorders,” Ball said. “These can turn into life-or-death situations.”

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