Personal approach to targeting teen alcohol, drug use


COLUMBUS – It is often a challenge for almost anyone with substance abuse problems, especially teenagers, to reach out for help.

So some schools in Ohio are using a new technique to better identify those at risk.

Professionals with Health Partners of Western Ohio are screening students, who come into the school-based health center at Lima High School by using something known as the SBIRT tool.

Jolene Joseph, director of Behavioral Health and Substance Abuse Services at Health Partners of Western Ohio, explains that students answer simple questions about risky behaviors, and a social worker reviews the results one-on-one.

“And then we go into a more in depth assessment to find out what else may be going on and kind of looking more at an in depth perspective, and then develop and devise a plan with their medical provider in collaboration with the student on what that treatment plan may need to look like,” she explains.

Students give permission to share the results with the school, their family and medical professionals, and they, as a team, develop an appropriate plan of intervention.

In the first year of using SBIRT, which stands for Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral to Treatment, Joseph says about one-in-four students screened admitted using alcohol or drugs in the past 90 days.

There is a negative correlation between alcohol and drug use and academic achievement, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Joseph explains the screening is conducted on a tablet, which is an easy way to engage with students who might otherwise feel worried about getting into trouble. She says the personal conversation in a private environment with a social worker helps teens to open up.

“We have found through that process they’re very honest, and almost to the point it’s like some relief of somebody had finally asked the right questions and they are willing to share and receive information and feedback,” Joseph explains.

Joseph adds that the school district is able to use the results of the screening to better target alcohol and drug abuse prevention and outreach for students.

“It is about health behaviors and the impact that it’s having on their overall health, and then teaching them about academic performance and how this can relate and tie into that together,” she stresses. “So we found that it’s really quite helpful and it opens the door for future success.”

Norwood City Schools are also using SBIRT, and Universal Health Care Action Network (UHCAN) Ohio is working with districts and state decision makers about the value of expanding the use of the screening tool.

By Mary Kuhlman

Ohio News Connection

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