Teenage overdose deaths are on the rise. And three out of four adults who become addicted to drugs or alcohol start using these substances before the age of 18. But most pediatricians don’t receive the recommended training to detect or treat addiction. That’s one of the findings of a survey of pediatric residency programs in the United States published in the journal Pediatrics.
“This is a significant cause of illness and death in young people across the country,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Scott Hadland, chief of adolescent and young adult medicine. at MassGeneral Hospital for Children. “Clearly we don’t have the training of pediatricians to tell them how to treat it.
The survey of 120 programs showed that only 41% offered instruction that included how to screen for a substance use disorder, intervene and treat the condition. The percentage is slightly higher, 46%, in counties where overdoses are more common.
Training related to prescriptions for naloxone, the drug that can reverse an opioid overdose, or fentanyl, the opioid that is fueling the recent rise in teen deaths, is even more limited. It is only offered in 21% and 23% of pediatric residences respectively.
The study lists three reasons for these gaps: not enough senior pediatricians with knowledge about adolescent substance use, an already busy class schedule, and a lack of available content. Hadland says other specialties such as emergency medicine, obstetrics and internal medicine have overcome these barriers to make substance use education a priority. He argues that pediatricians may have an even greater obligation to do so as well.
“It’s much easier to knock down a young person struggling with a short-term addiction than someone who’s been struggling for a long time,” he said. “The stakes are also higher because these are young people who have many years of health and longevity ahead of them.”
Hadland, who is both a pediatrician and an addiction medicine specialist, helped create online programs that could remove one of the barriers to better addiction education for pediatric residents and physicians who have already completed their training – the lack of teaching materials available.
Hadland says the American Academy of Pediatrics takes this issue seriously and is developing clinical practice guidelines. No one from the AAP was available to comment on the study.