Brief intervention for patients with problematic drug use presenting in emergency departments: a randomized clinical trial. Academic Article uri icon


  • Medical treatment settings such as emergency departments (EDs) present important opportunities to address problematic substance use. Currently, EDs do not typically intervene beyond acute medical stabilization.To contrast the effects of a brief intervention with telephone boosters (BI-B) with those of screening, assessment, and referral to treatment (SAR) and minimal screening only (MSO) among drug-using ED patients.Between October 2010 and February 2012, 1285 adult ED patients from 6 US academic hospitals, who scored 3 or greater on the 10-item Drug Abuse Screening Test (indicating moderate to severe problems related to drug use) and who were currently using drugs, were randomized to MSO (n = 431), SAR (n = 427), or BI-B (n = 427). Follow-up assessments were conducted at 3, 6, and 12 months by blinded interviewers.Following screening, MSO participants received only an informational pamphlet. The SAR participants received assessment plus referral to addiction treatment if indicated, and the BI-B participants received assessment and referral as in SAR, plus a manual-guided counseling session based on motivational interviewing principles and up to 2 "booster" sessions by telephone during the month following the ED visit.Outcomes evaluated at follow-up visits included self-reported days using the patient-defined primary problem drug, days using any drug, days of heavy drinking, and drug use based on analysis of hair samples. The primary outcome was self-reported days of use of the patient-defined primary problem drug during the 30-day period preceding the 3-month follow-up.Follow-up rates were 89%, 86%, and 81% at 3, 6, and 12 months, respectively. For the primary outcome, estimated differences in number of days of use (95% CI) were as follows: MSO vs BI-B, 0.72 (-0.80 to 2.24), P (adjusted) = .57; SAR vs BI-B, 0.70 (-0.83 to 2.23), P (adjusted) = .57; SAR vs MSO, -0.02 (-1.53 to 1.50), P (adjusted) = .98. There were no significant differences between groups in self-reported days using the primary drug, days using any drug, or heavy drinking days at 3, 6, or 12 months. At the 3-month follow-up, participants in the SAR group had a higher rate of hair samples positive for their primary drug of abuse (265 of 280 [95%]) than did participants in the MSO group (253 of 287 [88%]) or the BI-B group (244 of 275 [89%]). Hair analysis differences between groups at other time points were not significant.In this sample of drug users seeking emergency medical treatment, a relatively robust brief intervention did not improve substance use outcomes. More work is needed to determine how drug use disorders may be addressed effectively in the Identifier:NCT01207791.

publication date

  • November 2014