Drug War

No Evidence Doctors Can Stop Young Patients From Using Drugs, Say Researchers



Forget pushing physicians to nag their young patients about drug use. Chances are that few doctors look forward to playing nosy aunt and even fewer teens eagerly anticipate a lecture while they turn their heads and cough, but now they can easily shrug off those unpleasant roles. As it turns out, there's little evidence that physicians have any effect when it comes to nagging those darned kids to spurn pot or avoid popping pills.

Research performed on behalf of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an "independent, volunteer panel of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine," and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, finds:

The USPSTF found only 6 fair- or good-quality studies of 4 primary care–relevant behavioral interventions that focused on reducing drug use in adolescents. These interventions included face-to-face counseling, videos, print materials, and interactive computer-based tools. Although the interventions substantially varied in their intensity, components, populations, and sample sizes, they provide almost no evidence of significant improvements in health outcomes. A few changes in drug use and drug initiation were found, but given the lack of clear and consistent findings and the overall small evidence base, the USPSTF could not draw definitive conclusions. It is possible that brief primary care–relevant interventions do not significantly affect adolescent drug use or that more effective interventions may need to be developed.

The surveyed interventions, according to author Dr. Virginia A. Moyer, the vice president for maintenance of certification and quality at the American Board of Pediatrics, ranged from 10-minute in-office discussions to 45-minute interactive online interventions. Overall, the intent was to discourage the recreational use of marijuana, alcohol, and prescription drugs. While some reductions in use were reported, the biggest changes were, apparently, hard to interpret. "It is not clear whether the intervention helped girls who had never used drugs to remain abstinent or helped a few girls who were frequently using drugs to reduce or stop their drug use."

Overall, there was little to go on in order to assess the benefits, or harms, of using primary care physicians to convince kids to avoid drug and alcohol use.

As of 2003, U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations for preventive services would add 7.4 hours to a primary care doctor's day, and they probably haven't become less demanding in the intervening years. The ineffectiveness of drug interventions is plenty of reason to refrain from trying to shoehorn them into an already busy schedule.

Well, that and the risk of alienating patients with endless rounds of nagging.

NEXT: More Incoming College Students Are Looking at Price Tags

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. As it turns out, there’s little evidence that physicians have any effect when it comes to nagging those darned kids to spurn pot or avoid popping pills.

    Look, its obvious that these selfish doctors didn’t push this hard enough or often enough. Just wanted to collect their fees with as little work as possible, no matter the consequences to society.

    What we need is further regulatory authority to mandate that this is done, on a larger scale. Compliance auditing, random in-person inspections, interview monitoring, whatever it takes to keep our kids off drugs.

  2. Well that’s too bad because Colorado has already earmarked ~$40m a year to blow on scientifically preventing kids from smoking the herbs

    Your science? is more useful when it involves moar money for SEIU.

  3. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations for preventive services would add 7.4 hours to a primary care doctor’s day

    See, its all about greed. If these doctors took their social responsibilities seriously they would hire another doctor to cover compliance.

    Maybe we should tie medical licenses to a doctor’s performance vis-?-vis social responsibility.

    1. Plus, by my reckoning, that still leaves at least 7.4 hours a day to actually attend to patient needs.

  4. I bet if some doctor had tried telling me about staying from stuff as a kid, I would have taken notes on what was banned and therefore interesting. The more lecturey and pompous he was, the more I would have been interested.

  5. Between school and the doctor’s office, are there any aspects of child rearing that are actually, like, the responsibility of the PARENTS anymore?

  6. OK thaty dude is talking a LOT of smack.


  7. At my high school, no one was interested in drugs until we got all the educational pamphlets about them. They were practically direct marketing advertisements.

  8. Shameful state of our medical community when doctors are motivated by greed and hand-tied by government.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.