The University Record, February 13, 1996

Innovative Medical Center program hopes to stop substance abuse by teens

By Michelle Donaldson
Medical Center Public Relations

The Medical Center is launching a bold initiative to intercept and educate young people at the very beginning of their trouble with substance abuse.

"Facing Alcohol Challenges Together" (FACT), which requires parent participation, is a fast-paced two-day program that helps kids understand the stakes involved with drinking and abusing drugs. The ultimate objective is to save lives.

"The goal is to bring kids through the front door of the hospital now instead of the emergency room later," says Paul Taheri, assistant professor of surgery and one of the FACT program's coordinators in the Trauma /Burn Unit.

"Teenagers tend to think they're invincible. We want them to understand they could lose their freedom, their health, even their lives."

Most of the participants in the program will be referred by the Washtenaw and Livingston county courts, but space will be available for some youths from the community.

The goal of helping young people make wiser choices to avoid getting in trouble again will be accomplished through:

Education about the risks of serious injury, disability or death.

Role-playing, to give kids a true sense of their mortality andvulnerability.

Strategies to avoid repeating mistakes.

"Our target group is kids ages 10 to 17," Taheri says. "We need to get involved early, when kids are first caught experimenting with drugs or alcohol. We need to reach them before they make a fatal mistake."

Clinical nurse Pam Pucci, another coordinator of the program, says, "Traditionally, hospitals serve their communities when a medical need arises. We would rather be treating the source of the program. We want to change the behavior of teens and pre-teens before they get hurt. Influencing a child to avoid getting injured is better medicine than a life-saving surgery."

Twice-a-month sessions are held at the U-M Hospitals and include about 10 adolescents and their parents or guardians. The U-M program is modeled after a similar one at Methodist Hospital of Indiana.

The U-M's annual Monitoring the Future survey showed that drug use by secondary school students rose again in 1995. The number of eighth-graders taking any illicit drugs almost doubled during 1991 to 1995. Fifteen percent of eighth-graders also reported having five or more drinks in a row during the two weeks preceding the survey.

The Monitoring the Future study is done by Lloyd D. Johnston, Jerald Bachman and Patrick O'Malley of the Survey Research Center.