Health & Medicine

UK given grant extension for treating adolescent substance abuse

The University of Kentucky received a grant extension for its model clinic program to treat adolescent substance abuse.

Adolescent Health and Recovery Treatment and Training started in fall 2014, said Catherine Martin, director of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry and the principle investigator for the program.

UK received the $1.5 million grant from legal settlements that then-Attorney General Jack Conway reached with pharmaceutical companies in 2014, as previously reported by the Herald-Leader. The case was settled for $32 million. The extension involves no additional money, just more time to use the original grant.

23,000 adolescents a year from 2009 to 2013 in Kentucky reported in a survey that they had used illicit drugs in the previous month

Martin said the program tackles adolescent substance abuse specifically because of the disparities in treatment. Substance abuse in general is a largely under-treated disorder for all ages, she said, but can be worse for teenagers.

“Adolescents are very much under-treated … and so that’s why it’s important to have a good treatment model out there and available,” Martin said.

As the program has continued these past two years, Martin said it has evolved and adapted.

Project director Lisa Clark said one of the bigger changes to the program was when peer support specialists were brought on earlier this year.

Clark said they started thinking about incorporating peer support about a year ago and thought it would be of great value.

There are currently five peer support specialists, all of whom have to undergo training and receive state certification before they are able to work in the program.

Each of the peer support specialists also have what Clark called lived experience: They went through substance abuse and are recovering themselves.

For the purposes of the UK program, substance abuse can be broadly defined as tobacco use, smoking marijuana, using synthetic drugs, drinking alcohol or using opiates.

Josh Roehrig, 27, from Louisville, is one of the peer-support specialists. He said he wanted to work with the program to help those going through what he once was.

I know personally I’ve gone through similar struggles, and it’s really hard to relate to people that don’t understand and haven’t been through the same thing or similar things

Josh Roehrig, 27, Louisville, peer support specialist

“I know personally I’ve gone through similar struggles, and it’s really hard to relate to people that don’t understand and haven’t been through the same thing or similar things,” Roehrig said.

He said the primary objective when working with adolescents is to build a rapport with them and build a relationship.

Roehrig said a benefit of having this experience is being able to identify emotions and behaviors that come with substance abuse, and being able to empathize with those as well.

When he underwent treatment, Roehrig said he was never offered peer support but he wished he had been.

“To be able to work with somebody that’s been where you’ve been and shown them that there is a way out and that it’s not all doom and gloom I think is very beneficial,” he said.

He said specialists immediately start working with youths to set goals for them and help them identify their weaknesses and strengths.

When they make progress in the program and meet their goals, they’re often rewarded. The support specialists will take them out to eat or to the movies.

Martin referred to the reward process as contingency management.

Martin said what separates this program from the few other clinics that address adolescent substance abuse is its use of two therapy models.

Functional family therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are two specific to adolescents.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder is greatest for those who begin use in their early teens

Functional family therapy is an evidence-based family therapy intervention. Cognitive behavioral therapy addresses substance use and mental health disorders in adolescents using integrated psychotherapy.

“Both of these therapies are specific for adolescents,” Clark said. “What’s been going on in the treatment arena before now has kind of been for adults. We haven’t done a lot with the teenagers.”

The UK program drafted preliminary results in May for the program’s outcomes thus far in the commonwealth. Of the 371 clients who completed intake surveys, 65 have completed follow-up surveys. Data was collected 12 months later.

Numbers indicate improvement across the board. For example, 94 percent reported using marijuana at the start of the program, and in the follow-up survey, 34 percent reported use.

Thirty-seven percent reported anxiety and/or depression at intake, and 13 percent reported it at follow-up.

Martin said she’s happy about the grant extension, and officials hope to receive more funding for the project.

“I think it would be a tragedy if this all stopped,” she said. “I mean a lot of this is sustainable.”