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Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change


Changing the Conversation

Substance Use: Innovative Prevention & Early Intervention

08/3/16 11:44 AM | Laura Winn | Substance Use, Prevention


The opioid crisis has reached epidemic levels, with nearly half of Americans now reporting they personally know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers. Despite growing recognition of the problem and concerted efforts to drive practice and policy solutions, significant challenges remain.

While people often begin using alcohol or other drugs during adolescence and young adulthood, only 10 percent of 12-17 year olds who need substance use treatment actually receive services. When they do, they are much more likely to receive services while in the criminal justice system rather than through other avenues, such as their school or health care provider. These sobering statistics speak to the difficulty of identifying and helping at-risk teens before their substance use becomes a problem.

An emerging integrated health care model for young people known as SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment) offers the opportunity to identify and respond to early indicators of risk for problem substance use. This model may show promise for low to moderate risk adolescents who can benefit from a 5-10 minute motivational conversation with their care provider and who otherwise wouldn’t be identified. These teens may also benefit from additional prevention-focused supports, yet few exist.

My colleagues at the Center for Social Innovation and I, in partnership with Young People in Recovery, have been pilot testing a new SBIRT-based intervention for teens. We presented early feasibility data from one of our pilot sites, Nationwide Children’s Hospital Adolescent Clinic, at this year’s Academy Health Annual Research Meeting.

Funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Project Amp: Amplifying Our Futures is a brief mentorship intervention that pairs adolescents identified as low to moderate risk for problem substance use with young adults (ages 18-28) in recovery from substance use disorders. These trained mentors draw on their personal wellness and resiliency strategies to connect with teens about shared experiences and challenges. Read more from Laura on Project Amp's efforts around youth substance use prevention.

Research shows that various factors--such as self-confidence, positive relationships with peers and adults, and social connections within safe, supportive communities--help kids make good choices. Four Project Amp mentorship sessions focus on goal setting, wellness, stress management, mindfulness, social influences, and community connections. The sessions also allow ample opportunity for youth to explore questions, concerns, and assumptions they may have about alcohol and other drugs.

Project Amp is unique because it bridges two historically disparate fields of service and research: prevention and recovery. The intervention taps into common threads across the two fields, aimed at finding things in our lives that keep us all healthy, well, and connected. Young adult mentors have learned what works to help them maintain their own recovery and wellness, and they are eager to explore how they can help youth participants to be well and stay well. Read a mentor's perspective on promoting youth substance use prevention and recovery through Project Amp.

As the country seeks solutions to widespread substance use, it’s hard to imagine a more pressing time to explore innovative prevention and early intervention initiatives. We look forward to sharing what we learn from Project Amp.

Learn more about Project Amp by listening in to a t3 podcast "Youth Empowerment: From Active Addiction to Recovery"

Listen Here

Image by Matt (CC by 2.0).

Laura Winn

Written by Laura Winn

Laura Pannella Winn is an applied social scientist interested in health care policy and its intersection with substance use, mental health, and homeless services. As an Associate at the Center for Social Innovation, she has led the implementation of many related federally funded research and training grants. She currently serves as the Deputy Project Director of Project Amp, an intervention research project aimed at preventing substance use disorders in adolescents though a brief mentorship with young adults in recovery. Laura received her master’s in social sciences from the University of Chicago. She lives in Chapel Hill, NC with her husband and two children. Her work is informed by a family history of addiction.