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Quality Addiction Treatment for Teens Lacking, Researchers Say

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There are few addiction treatment programs aimed at young users, and quality is lacking among the teen-oriented programs that do exist, according to a new study from the Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP), a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Researcher Hannah K. Knudsen, Ph.D., of the University of Kentucky conducted interviews with managers at 154 adolescent-only treatment programs and, based on nine standard measures of treatment quality, concluded that most programs provided only a middling quality of services.

Most programs provided standard or intensive outpatient care, which Knudsen and colleagues found that more intensive programs provided better quality of care. “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,” she said.

Knudsen said that less than one-third of addiction programs in the U.S. have a specialized program for adolescents. “We have known that out of 1.4 million teens needing help for substance abuse, one-tenth of those get treatment,” said the study author. “Part of this treatment gap may be driven by the limited availability of adolescent-only treatment services.”

“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.

The study was published in the March 2009 issue of the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.  

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