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Osteopathic Physicians Encourage Routine Screenings for Adolescent Substance Abuse to Curb Death from Addiction

While teen substance use declines, overdose deaths are more common than fatalities from motor vehicle accidents and firearms, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration

By AOA Media Team


CHICAGO, September 15, 2016—Evaluating adolescents as young as 12 for use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and illicit drugs on an ongoing basis can avert death from overdoses later in life, according to osteopathic physicians specializing in addiction medicine.

In the United States, about 130 people die per day from drug overdoses and the majority of those deaths occurred in people 25-34 years old, according to Centers for Disease Control studies. Overdoses accounted for more deaths in 2014 than motor vehicle crashes.

“We know that many who died started their substance use during early or middle adolescence and no one intervened,” said Marla Kushner, DO, medical director for New Hope Recovery Center in Chicago. “As an osteopathic physician, I strongly encourage building a partnership with patients to discuss substance use in the context of their health, without judging the behavior. Our job is to help them make good choices or, in some cases, get treatment for their addiction.”

The Monitoring the Future 2015 teen drug use survey found significant substance use among 8th grade students, with more than one-tenth of eighth graders in 2015 reporting use of alcohol in the past 30 days and marijuana in the past year, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. By 10th grade, three percent had used OxyContin in the last year and .8% of 10th graders had used meth in the same timeframe. While the respective percentages are small, the figures are alarming because they indicate approximately 120,000 teens tried OxyContin and thirty-two thousand sampled meth, according to census data.

“The adolescent brain is all accelerator and no brakes, making them vulnerable during a critical development period. In a world of e-cigarettes, changing attitudes about drug use and digitally savvy kids who know how to get information and products from the internet, physicians need to have frank conversations with young patients about consequences and their reality,” Dr. Kushner added.

Dr. Kushner specializes in adolescent medicine and offers addiction treatment within her Chicago practice. She recommends beginning substance use screenings as early as 12 and continuing through early adulthood, giving young patients a non-judgmental atmosphere where the risk and impacts of their behaviors can be discussed.

“I excelled at lying to my friends and family,” said 25 year-old “Tim”, patient of Dr. Kushner and recovering substance abuser. “On the outside I had it all together. On the inside the only thing I could think about was my next fix.” A casual marijuana user in high school, “Tim” became addicted to opioid painkillers following an injury during a high school basketball game. When his prescription lapsed, he transitioned to heroin, which is not uncommon, according to Dr. Kushner.

Early and routine drug screenings can prevent the progression of substance use. Parents are encouraged to speak with their child’s primary care physician to develop a plan.

Dr. Kushner will review current screening methods, referral practices and follow –up strategies to tackle adolescent substance abuse at OMED 16 September 17-20 in Anaheim, California. OMED is the annual medical education conference of the American Osteopathic Association.

About OMED 16

OMED 16 is the American Osteopathic Association’s five-day medical education event offering clinical and research updates in 15 specialties, with an emphasis on osteopathic principles and practices.

The osteopathic philosophy of medicine takes a whole person approach to prevention, diagnosis and treatment, giving its practitioners a distinct model for clinical problem solving and patient education.  OMED welcomes all health care professionals– including MDs, nurse practitioners and physician assistants—interested in osteopathic medicine’s collaborative approach to increasingly complex medical issues.

To learn more about DOs and the osteopathic approach to medicine, visit


Media Contact:

Jessica Bardoulas