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SAMHSA awards Penn State Project ECHO $1.5 million to address underage drinking

Project ECHO at Penn State College of Medicine will use a $1.5 million federal grant to address underage drinking and opioid use in 10 rural counties in central Pennsylvania. The five-year grant was awarded by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“Alcohol and other substance use in children has a significant public health impact, given youth have greater susceptibility to risk-related injuries,” said Jennifer Kraschnewski, director of Project ECHO at theCollege of Medicine and a Penn State Health primary care clinician-investigator who studies community health interventions. “In fact, three out of four deaths in adolescents are due to unintentional injury, homicide and suicide, and alcohol is involved in more than one third of those deaths.”

The administration has estimated that fewer than 10% of adolescents in need of substance abuse treatment receive it. Additionally, a barrier to addressing underage drinking is the lack of appropriate screening, intervention and referral for alcohol use among youth.

Penn State Project ECHO is taking steps to equip school nurses and pediatricians with strategies to address underage drinking through the training and delivery of substance use screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment – steps collectively referred to as the SBIRT technique. Guidelines recommend primary care providers incorporate these techniques into routine care. Screening is not only important to identify children currently engaged in alcohol use, but also provides positive reinforcement for youth not currently using, which is known to delay initiation of alcohol use.

“Project ECHO at Penn State leverages a multi-disciplinary team of experts to enhance capacity for treatment in our local communities,” Kraschnewski said. “Our hope is to support and educate school nurses and pediatricians throughout the Commonwealth to provide the care and referral to treatment that Pennsylvania children need.”

“The public health impact of adolescent substance use and its preventable morbidity and mortality demonstrates the need for increased capacity across the healthcare landscape,” said Dr. Sheryl Ryan, chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Penn State College of Medicine, and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Substance Use and Prevention. “The academy supports the use of the SBIRT technique as a guide to enhance that capacity with regards to substance use screening and intervention.”

About Project ECHO

Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) at Penn State uses a telehealth model to connect specialists with community providers across PA and beyond. Together, they discuss de-identified patient cases and develop recommendations for care. Over time, community health providers become experts, and fewer patients have to travel for specialized services.

Project ECHO fosters a guided, virtual learning community aimed at practice improvement: providers receive mentoring and feedback, strengthen their skillset related to more complex diseases, and retain responsibility for their patients. As a result, patients get the high-quality care they need, when they need it and close to home.

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