Experts in the field suggest that drug addiction is affecting children of increasingly younger ages, and, as a result, the need for effective drug-prevention methods and policy is becoming increasingly important.

To address this and similar issues, medical researchers, clinicians and public health policy-makers assessed Connecticut’s Response to the New England Governor’s Drug Summit yesterday during Grand Rounds at Yale School of Medicine. Presenters discussed approaches to drug prevention that included community outreach, identification, intervention and treatment for potential or current drug abusers.

The New England Governor’s Drug Summit, held late last year, brought together medical researchers, health care workers and drug-policy-reform advocates to discuss regional drug-policy issues. The event, sponsored by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, received criticism from activist groups for its stance on the issue of medical marijuana.

Yesterday’s Grand Rounds focused exclusively on drug abuse prevention methods, which is not a politically contentious issue, Dr. D’Onofrio said.

“We wanted to bring together policy makers, researchers and clinicians for the common goal, which is obviously to decrease alcohol and drug abuse,” said Dr. D’Onofrio.

Of primary importance to the event was Dr. D’Onofrio’s presentation of a “model education program in screening and brief intervention” for emergency care practitioners. She said the process consists of short interviews of five to 45 minutes between doctors and their patients, during which doctors try to identify and treat drug addiction.

“Our model education program in screening and brief intervention is a psychosocial model that allows non-addiction specialists to help patients decrease their use of drugs. The process often involves giving feedback and negotiating with the patient a change in drug use,” she said.

Another focus of the conference was Project ASSERT, which aims to work with potential drug abusers before they become dependent on a drug.

“There are a range of people who need medical services,” said Thomas Kirk, from the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. “Some programs concentrate on the most severe level of dependence. Our program targets people earlier, to intervene early before they go on to dependence.”

Andrea Barthwell, M.D., from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, emphasized the methods by which new drug users are introduced to drugs.

“Most people believe the myth that drug use is started by the sketchy guy on the corner distributing drugs,” said Dr. Barthwell. “Drug use is spread by people who enjoy the novel, pleasurable experience of the drug, and they want to share it with their peers. They also want to share their drug use to rationalize their behaviors.”

Ginger Katz, another guest at the Grand Rounds, is the founder of The Courage to Speak Foundation, whose mission is to promote drug prevention at a young age. Targeting both children and their parents, Katz’s work has resulted in funding for drug prevention education in Fairfield County middle schools. In addition, she has spoken at over 400 elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and colleges.

Katz said she was motivated to promote drug awareness after the death of her son, Ian, from heroin overdose. She said she believes drug use can be greatly reduced through education in schools, from before kindergarten through college.

“The worst situation you can have is a naive child and an unsuspecting parent who doesn’t believe that [drug addiction] can happen to his or her child.” Katz said.

Connecticut Governor John Rowland was scheduled to attend the Grand Rounds but cancelled due to unforeseen events in Hartford.

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