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Teen Health and Safety

Taking Action Against Teen Substance Use Disorders

Shannon Biello

Director, National Treatment Quality Initiatives, Shatterproof

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought families closer together. For some, more time in the same place has revealed some major concerns.

Realizing that your teen may have a problem with addiction, known in the medical community as a substance use disorder, can be a shock. Determining what steps to take to support them is overwhelming, especially when you need to act quickly.

Misinformation and expensive marketing campaigns can make it nearly impossible to know who is best suited to help your family. That’s why we created ATLAS®, a system that helps you identify the treatment type that most meets your needs, and then allows you to compare treatment facilities based on their objective quality, not their marketing spend. The first step is knowing what to look for.

The first steps

The Addiction Treatment Needs Assessment is a free online resource that features quick, confidential, expert-developed questions that assess your teen’s needs. The assessment then provides guidance on the treatment type and additional services (for example, medication for opioid use disorder or mental healthcare) you should look for in a treatment provider based upon their unique needs. While this does not replace a clinical assessment by a trained healthcare provider, it is critically important to equip yourself with this information when looking for care. Too often, families call a treatment facility and are told they are a good fit for a program because of their ability to pay, not necessarily because the program can meet the patient’s clinical needs.

What to look for

Once you determine the right type of addiction treatment to look for, you can search on ATLAS® to find care. While this system is currently available in six states, you should ask facilities whether their care aligns with them. They are:

  • Fast access to treatment
  • Personalized evaluation and treatment plan
  • Access to medications for opioid or alcohol use disorder
  • Effective behavioral therapies for addiction
  • Long-term treatment and follow-up
  • Coordinated care for mental and physical health
  • Additional services to support recovery
  • Routine screenings in every medical setting

It’s also important to understand that the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act requires private health insurers to cover addiction and mental health benefits at a comparable cost to medical/surgical benefits, and the Affordable Care Act requires a Medicaid plan to cover substance use disorder and mental health care as “essential health benefits.” So, before you contact a provider, get in touch with your health insurer.

Start by learning if you have in-network or out-of-network benefits, or both, as this may limit access to specialty providers or require a referral. If your loved one may have an opioid use disorder, make sure the insurance plan covers medications for addiction treatment. Check with your insurer if you need prior authorization for specific treatment settings, medications, or office visits that your provider recommends. Also, you should check if there are limits or caps to these services.

While this can be a challenging time, there are resources available to support you in making informed decisions that put your teen on the best path toward recovery.

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