Integrating Substance Use Care Into Primary Care for Adolescents and Young Adults: Lessons Learned
Substance use disorders are common chronic conditions that often begin and develop during adolescence and young adulthood, yet the delivery of primary care is not developmentally tailored for youth who use substances. Very few primary care–based substance use treatment programs exist in the United States for adolescents and young adults and no clear guidance is available about how to provide substance use treatment in primary care.
In this study, researchers conducted a retrospective evaluation from July 2016 to December 2018 of a newly established primary care–based, multidisciplinary, outpatient program for youth who use substances. Components of the program include primary care, addiction treatment, harm reduction, naloxone distribution, psychotherapy, recovery support, and navigation addressing social determinants of health. This study reports the following patient characteristics and outcomes: demographics; proportion with substance use and mental health diagnoses; receipt of medications for opioid use disorder; retention in care at three, six, nine, and 12 months; and re-engagement in medical care.
From July 2016 through December 2018, 148 patients had at least one visit. Demographic characteristics included: median age 21 years; 40.5% female; 94.0% spoke primarily English; 18.3% Black, 14.9% Hispanic, and 60.8% white. One-third of patients (33.8%) were homeless or housing insecure. The most common substance use disorder was opioid use disorder (60.8%), followed by nicotine (37.2%), cannabis (20.9%), and alcohol (18.2%). Overall, 29.7% of patients had depression, 32.4% had anxiety disorder, and 18.9% had post-traumatic stress disorder. Retention in care was 29.7% at six months and 12.2% at 12 months. Among the 90 patients with OUD, 90.0% received medication for OUD, and 35.5% and 15.5% of patients with OUD were retained at six and 12 months, respectively. For patients lost to follow-up (no contact during a three-month period), the median time to re-engagement was 4.8 months, and 33.3% (37/111) of patients re-engaged. The most common reason for re-engagement was to access mental health treatment (59.5%) and primary care (51.4%).
Youth who sought care in a primary care–based substance use program presented most commonly with opioid, nicotine, cannabis, and alcohol use disorders. Co-morbid mental health diagnoses were common. While continuous retention at 12 months was low, one in three of the patients who fell out of care re-engaged. For youth receiving substance use care integrated into primary care, key components for pursing optimal retention in substance use treatment are a flexible model that anticipates the need for the treatment of mental health disorders and the use of re-engagement strategies.