Child advocates in Massachusetts are calling for all public school students in the state to be screened for substance use, WBUR reports.
Mary McGeown, President and CEO of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, says school nurses should add substance use screening to tests for vision and hearing. Currently eight schools in the state test for substance use. This fall, seven additional districts will start screening.
According to McGeown, participating schools have found that few students in grades seven to nine have serious substance abuse problems.
“In about 10 percent of the cases there is brief counseling, that the individual reports that they have used alcohol or have used marijuana, and it’s a one-on-one, often with the nurse who has just conducted the assessment, where they talk about the choices,” she said. Research suggests this brief counseling can change the youth’s behavior, McGeown added.
“In a very, very small percentage of those 10 percent, really 1 or 2 percent, there’s a referral to treatment,” she said. “And it’s at that point that a parent would be called.”
Screening would take place once in middle school and twice in high school. It consists of a brief written survey that takes less than a minute to complete, the article notes.
“It asks them: In the past year, how many times have you had a drink with alcohol in it? How many times have you used marijuana? How many times have you used tobacco?” explained Dr. Sharon Levy, Medical Director of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, who helped develop a version of the screening.“They could say never, once or twice, about monthly, or weekly or more. And what we found was that their responses really predicted their substance use risk very, very well.”