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WASHINGTON — Six in 10 primary care pediatricians reported always screening adolescents for substance use, but less than half reported using a standardized instrument, Deepa Camenga, MD, said in a presentation at the 2023 Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting.

Dr Deepa Camenga

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends universal screening for substance use in adolescents during annual health visits, but current screening rates and practices among primary care pediatricians in the United States are unknown, said Dr. Camenga, an associate professor at Yale University, does zyvox treat mrsa New Haven, Conn.

Uniformity in screening is lacking

Dr. Camenga presented data from the 2021 AAP Periodic Survey, which included 1,683 nonretired AAP members in the United States. Residents were excluded. The current analysis included 471 pediatricians who reported providing health supervision to adolescents. Overall, 284 of the 471 included respondents (60%) reported always screening adolescent patients for substance use during a health supervision visit. Of these, 42% reported using a standardized screening instrument, Dr. Camenga said.

The majority (70%) of pediatricians who used a standardized screening tool opted for the CRAFFT tool (Car, Relax, Alone, Forget, Friends, Trouble) designed for ages 12-21 years. Another 21% reported using an unspecified screening tool, 4% used RAAPS (Rapid Assessment for Adolescent Preventive Services), 3% used S2BI (Screening to Brief Intervention), and 1% used BSTAD (Brief Screener for Tobacco, Alcohol, and other Drugs).

A total of 77% of respondents reported screening their adolescent patients for substance use without a parent or guardian present. Approximately half (52%) used paper-based screening, 22% used electronic screening, 21% used verbal screening, and 6% reported other methods.

A total of 68% and 70% of respondents, respectively, agreed or strongly agreed that top barriers to screening were the lack of an onsite provider for counseling and the lack of readily available treatment options. Other reported barriers included lack of knowledge or information, patient reluctance to discuss substance use, too many other priorities during the visit, and inadequate payment. Only 6% of respondents strongly agreed that lack of time was a barrier, said Dr. Camenga.

Screening frequency and screening practices varied by geographic region, Dr. Camenga said. Pediatricians in the South and Midwest were only half as likely as those in the Northeast to report always screening adolescents for substance use (adjusted odds ratio, 0.43 and 0.53, respectively; < .05). Similarly, compared with pediatricians in the Northeast, those in the South, Midwest, and West were significantly less likely to report using a standardized instrument for substance use screening (aOR, 0.53, 0.24, and 0.52, respectively; < 0.001 for all).

The disparities in screening by geographic region show that there is room for improvement in this area, said Dr. Camenga. Systems-level interventions such as treatment financing and access to telehealth services could improve primary care access to substance use treatment professionals, she said.

At the practice level, embedding screening and referral tools into electronic health records could potentially improve screening rates. Many primary care pediatricians do not receive training in identifying and assessing substance use in their patients, or in first-line treatment, Dr. Camenga said.

“We have to invest in a ‘train the trainer’ type of model,” she emphasized.

Data highlight regional resource gaps

The current study is important because it highlights potential missed opportunities to screen adolescents for substance use, said Sarah Yale, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, in an interview. Dr. Yale said that the disparities in screening by region are interesting and should serve as a focus for resource investment because the lack of specialists for referral and treatment options in these areas is likely a contributing factor.

However, lack of training also plays a role, said Dr. Yale, who was not involved in the study but served as a moderator of the presentation session at the meeting. Many pediatricians in practice have not been trained in substance use screening, and the fact that many of those who did try to screen were not using a standardized screening tool indicates a need for provider education, she said. The take-home message for clinicians is to find ways to include substance use screening in the care of their adolescent patients. Additionally, more research is needed to assess how best to integrate screening tools into visits, whether on paper, electronically, or verbally, and to include training on substance use screening during pediatric medical training.

The survey was conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics Research Division. This year’s survey was supported by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. Dr. Camenga had no financial conflicts to disclose. Dr. Yale had no financial conflicts to disclose.

This story originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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