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January 22. 2014 9:20PM

Grant targets young patients over drug, alcohol use

More than $2 million is coming into the state so doctors can ask their teenage and young adult patients a simple question — do you use drugs or alcohol?

Earlier this week, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation announced it had secured a $2.25 million grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. The grant will pay for “an innovative and proven screening program” to reduce drug and alcohol use among patients aged 12 to 22.

The program provides training and other funding needed so general practitioners can ask young patients about drug and alcohol use, the Charitable Foundation said. In a press release, the Foundation said such questions are not standard practice among New Hampshire physicians, nurse practitioners and other providers.

“Physicians receive very little training (about drug and alcohol abuse) in medical school, and there’s a lack of understanding about it,” said Tym Rourke, director of substance use grant making at the Charitable Foundation, and chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention.

However, a pediatrician at one of the state’s largest hospitals said best practices established by the American Academy of Pediatricians already call on family doctors and pediatricians to ask such questions.

“How consistently they ask, how frequently they ask may vary quite a bit,” said Dr. Gus Emmick, a pediatrician at Elliot Health Services in Manchester. “The problem is there are hundreds of best practices. The issue is not that they’re existing, but to get people to use them consistently.”

The grant money will not be spent on doctor bills, medicine or any follow-up treatment for anyone who answers yes to questions about substance abuse, Rourke said. Rather, it is needed for “start ups and complexities” involved in any changes that take place in modern health care practice, he said.

Physicians must be trained. Electronic medical record software must be reprogrammed. Managers must redesign work flows. Lawyers must determine what information can be shared and by whom.

Rourke said smaller practices will have to forge relationships with providers of substance abuse treatment.

The money could also be used to lobby for policy and law changes that would open up New Hampshire Medicaid for drug and alcohol treatment, Rourke said.

Once all that is in place, doctors and clinics will be able to receive payment associated with the questioning, Rourke said.

The grant will fund preparation for the Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment Program. It was piloted last year at the Goodwin Community Health Center in Somersworth.

Non-profit hospitals, clinics and physician practices are eligible for funding through the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.

mhayward@unionleader.com


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