When the Levee Breaks: Treating Adolescents and Families in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Authors


  • Cynthia L. Rowe, PhD, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine; Howard A. Liddle, EdD, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

  • This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (Grant No. R01 DA021887, C. Rowe, PI). We gratefully acknowledge Dr. Gayle Dakof, Dr. Annette LaGreca, and Dr. Julian Ford, as well as the entire Center for Family and Youth Services team, for their significant contributions to this project.

Address correspondence to Cynthia L. Rowe, Center for Treatment Research on Adolescent Drug Abuse (R669), Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, PO Box 019132, Miami, Florida 33101; E-mail: crowe@med.miami.edu

Abstract

Hurricane Katrina brought to the surface serious questions about the capacity of the public health system to respond to community-wide disaster. The storm and its aftermath severed developmentally protective family and community ties; thus its consequences are expected to be particularly acute for vulnerable adolescents. Research confirms that teens are at risk for a range of negative outcomes under conditions of life stress and family disorganization. Specifically, the multiple interacting risk factors for substance abuse in adolescence may be compounded when families and communities have experienced a major trauma. Further, existing service structures and treatments for working with young disaster victims may not address their risk for co-occurring substance abuse and traumatic stress reactions because they tend to be individually or peer group focused, and fail to consider the multi-systemic aspects of disaster recovery. This article proposes an innovative family-based intervention for young disaster victims, based on an empirically supported model for adolescent substance abuse, Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT; Liddle, 2002). Outcomes and mechanisms of the model’s effects are being investigated in a randomized clinical trial with clinically referred substance-abusing teens in a New Orleans area community impacted by Hurricane Katrina.

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