State of the Art in Substance Use Prevention and Early Intervention: Applications to Pediatric Primary Care Settings

Pamela A. Matson, Ty Ridenour, Nicholas Ialongo, Richard Spoth, Guillermo Prado, Christopher J. Hammond, J. David Hawkins, Hoover Adger

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review


With changes to drug-related policies and increased availability of many drugs, we currently face a public health crisis related to substance use and associated health consequences. Substance use and substance use disorders (SU/SUDs) are complex developmental disorders with etiologies that emerge through the intergenerational transmission of biological, familial, and environmental factors. The family ecosystem both influences and is influenced by SU/SUDs, particularly in children and adolescents. Family dynamics and parent functioning and behaviors can represent either risk or protective factors for the development of SU/SUDs in children. Primary care providers who provide care for children, adolescents, and families are in an ideal position to deliver prevention messages and to intervene early in the development of substance misuse and SUD among their patients. Despite recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, few pediatric primary care providers provide anticipatory guidance to prevent or screen for substance misuse. Many barriers to those practices can be overcome through the integration and application of findings from the field of prevention science and the many lessons learned from the implementation of evidence-based interventions. Consideration of the implications of prevention science findings would help clarify the relevant roles and responsibilities of the primary care clinician, and the benefit of referral to and consultation from addiction specialists. Additionally, the past decade has seen the development and validation of a continuum of evidence-based prevention and early SU/SUD intervention activities that can be adapted for use in primary care settings making wide-spread implementation of prevention feasible. We propose a paradigm shift away from a model based on diagnosis and pathology to one upstream, that of family-focused prevention and early intervention. Adapting and scaling out empirically based prevention and early SU/SUD interventions to primary care settings and removing barriers to collaborative care across primary care, addiction medicine, and mental health providers offer the potential to meaningfully impact intergenerational transmission of SU/SUD — addressing a leading health problem facing our nation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPrevention Science
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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