When Dr. Jason Reynolds learned that one of his teenage patients was in the emergency room after overdosing on heroin, he was stunned. Reynolds had been Nate Morse’s pediatrician since the boy was 6.
Now, he wondered what he could do for Nate, who was still not 21. “I remember leaving the room and thinking, OK, where are we going to find help for you?” Reynolds told Today’s Kate Snow. “And how are we going to help you with this. And really, there’s not a lot.”
Reynolds had just found one of the big holes in addiction treatment: most programs are designed for adults and won’t take adolescents. Few programs are targeted to someone as young as Morse, who had become hooked on opioids after getting pain medication for a soccer injury and first overdosed at 19. With overdose deaths among teens on the rise, that treatment hole has become all the more important to fill.
“It’s very hard for kids to get treatment,” said Dr. Sharon Levy, one of the nation’s few pediatric substance abuse specialists. Levy, who practices at Boston Children’s Hospital, realized that there was a need to give more pediatricians the training they would need to treat addiction.
“There are 750,000 physicians in this country who can prescribe pain medications, while there are only 37,000 who can prescribe the medication to treat people who have an addiction to pain medications,” Levy said. “And only 1 percent [of those 37,000] are pediatricians. So there is a real gaping hole when it comes to getting these medications out to the kids who need them.”