Brief Intervention for Patients With Problematic Drug Use Presenting in Emergency Departments: A Randomized Clinical Trial

Publication Type
Journal Article
Year of Publication
Bogenschutz, MP; Donovan, DM; Mandler, RN; Perl, HI; Forcehimes, AA; Crandall, C; Lindblad, R; Oden, NL; Sharma, G; Metsch, L; Lyons, MS; McCormack, R; Konstantopoulos, WM; Douaihy, A
JAMA Intern Med
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Date Published
Importance: 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. Objective: 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. Design, Setting, and Participants: 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. Interventions: 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. Main Outcomes and Measures: 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. Results: 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. Conclusions and Relevance: 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 ED.