Hasbro Children's Hospital emergency medicine physician James Linakis, M.D., Ph.D, was recently awarded a five-year, $3.2 million grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to validate a more efficient test to screen teenagers for future alcohol abuse and other risk behaviors. Linakis will be joined on the multi-site study by co-principal investigator Anthony Spirito, Ph.D., ABPP, professor of psychiatry & human behavior at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
The project, titled "Teen Alcohol Screening in the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network (PECARN)," will utilize 16 children's hospital sites to determine if the NIAAA two-question screen is an efficient and valid alcohol screening instrument among U.S. pediatric emergency department patients compared to the previously utilized more lengthy questionnaires.
"We know that the younger an individual starts to drink, the higher their risk for developing alcohol related issues later in life. We need to find the best way to catch this early," said Linakis.
Over the past few years, the NIAAA has focused on the importance of screening adolescents for alcohol problems, but the only screening tools have been relatively lengthy. A basic, two-question screening questionnaire was created that the NIAAA hopes will be predictive of both current and future alcohol problems in adolescents. It asks:
1. Do you drink alcohol? How much?
2. Do you have friends who drink alcohol?
"This two-question screening is based on established literature, but it has never been validated. The NIAAA is asking for PECARN hospital sites to test the two-question screener, so we can make sure that the screening system works," said Linakis.
Adolescents ages 12 to 17, who are being treated in the emergency room, will be randomly selected to take part in the questionnaire. They will be asked these questions, along with a series of others to compare them with longer questionnaires. The goal is to screen 5,000 teens over three-and-a-half years. Researchers will then contact 1,000 of those teens and screen them again.
"We want to see if the shorter survey can just as effectively predict risky behaviors, both current and future," said Linakis. "When we follow up we will also be able to see if the questionnaire predicted drug abuse or risky behaviors, not just alcohol use."
After the study is complete, Linakis' team and the NIH hope to use this data to help develop an intervention for adolescents who drink alcohol and display other unsafe behaviors.
"The study, the data it finds, and the future intervention program will be extremely helpful for anyone who takes care of kids in a primary care setting," said Linakis.