Primary care behavioral interventions to prevent or reduce illicit drug use and nonmedical pharmaceutical use in children and adolescents: a systematic evidence review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

Ann Intern Med. 2014 May 6;160(9):612-20. doi: 10.7326/M13-2064.


Background: Drug use among youths is associated with negative health and social consequences. Even infrequent use increases the risk for serious adverse events by increasing risk-taking behaviors in intoxicated or impaired persons.

Purpose: To systematically review the benefits and harms of primary care-relevant interventions designed to prevent or reduce illicit drug use or the nonmedical use of prescription drugs among youths.

Data sources: PubMed, PsycINFO, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials through 4 June 2013; MEDLINE through 31 August 2013; and manual searches of reference lists and gray literature.

Study selection: Two investigators independently reviewed 2253 abstracts and 144 full-text articles. English-language trials of primary care-relevant behavioral interventions that reported drug use, health outcomes, or harms were included.

Data extraction: One investigator abstracted data from good- and fair-quality trials into prespecified evidence tables, and a second investigator checked these data.

Data synthesis: Six trials were included, 4 of which examined the effect of the intervention on a health or social outcome. One trial found no effect of the intervention on marijuana-related consequences or driving under the influence of marijuana; 3 trials generally found no reduction in depressed mood at 12 or 24 months. Four of the 5 trials assessing self-reported marijuana use found statistically significant differences favoring the intervention group participants (such as a between-group difference of 0.10 to 0.17 use occasions in the past month). Three trials also reported positive outcomes in nonmedical prescription drug use occasions.

Limitations: The body of evidence was small, and there were heterogeneous measures of outcomes of limited clinical applicability. Trials primarily included adolescents with little or no substance use.

Conclusion: Evidence is inadequate on the benefits of primary care-relevant behavioral interventions in reducing self-reported illicit and pharmaceutical drug use among adolescents.

Primary funding source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Behavior Therapy* / methods
  • Child
  • Depression / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs*
  • Marijuana Abuse / prevention & control
  • Marijuana Abuse / psychology
  • Prescription Drugs*
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Risk-Taking
  • Substance-Related Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • United States


  • Illicit Drugs
  • Prescription Drugs