Screening, brief interventions, referral to treatment (SBIRT) for illicit drug and alcohol use at multiple healthcare sites: Comparison at intake and six months

Title: Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) for illicit drug and alcohol use at multiple healthcare sites: Comparison at intake and six months

Authors: Bertha K. Madras, Wilson M. Compton, Deepa Avula, Tom Stegbauer, Jack B. Stein, and H. Westley Clark

Published InDrug and Alcohol Dependence, Volume 99, Issue 1-3 (January 2009), Pages 280-295



Alcohol screening and brief interventions in medical settings can significantly reduce alcohol use. Corresponding data for illicit drug use is sparse. A Federally funded Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) service program, the largest of its kind to date, was initiated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in a wide variety of medical settings. We compared illicit drug use at intake and six months after drug screening and interventions were administered.


SBIRT services were implemented in a range of medical settings across six states. A diverse patient population (Alaska Natives, American Indians, African-Americans, Caucasians, Hispanics), was screened and offered score-based progressive levels of intervention (brief intervention, brief treatment, referral to specialty treatment). In this secondary analysis of the SBIRT service program, drug use data was compared at intake and at a six month follow-up, in a sample of a randomly selected population (10%) that screened positive at baseline.


Of 459,599 patients screened, 22.7% screened positive for a spectrum of use (risky/problematic, abuse/addiction). The majority were recommended for a brief intervention (15.9%), with a smaller percentage recommended for brief treatment (3.2%) or referral to specialty treatment (3.7%). Among those reporting baseline illicit drug use, rates of drug use at 6 month follow-up (4 of 6 sites), were 67.7% lower (p < 0.001) and heavy alcohol use was 38.6% lower (p < 0.001), with comparable findings across sites, gender, race/ethnic, age subgroups. Among persons recommended for brief treatment or referral to specialty treatment, self-reported improvements in general health (p < 0.001), mental health (p < 0.001), employment (p < 0.001), housing status (p < 0.001), and criminal behavior (p < 0.001) were found.


SBIRT was feasible to implement and the self-reported patient status at six months indicated significant improvements over baseline, for illicit drug use and heavy alcohol use, with functional domains improved, across a range of health care settings and a range of patients.

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