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.
This study, National Drug Abuse Institute Clinical Trials Network protocol CTN-0047 (“Screening Motivational Assessment and Referral to Treatment in Emergency Departments (SMART-ED)“) aimed 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. The Pacific Northwest Node was the co-lead node on this project.
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 assessment were conducted at 3, 6, and 12 months by blinded interviewers.
Following screening, each group received:
- MSO participants: only an informational pamphlet;
- SAR participants: assessment plus referral to addiction treatment if indicated;
- BI-B participants: 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.
Results found 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 or 287, 88%) or the BI-B group (244 of 275, 89%). Hair analysis differences between groups at other time points were not significant.
Conclusions: The findings of this study suggest that even a relatively robust brief intervention such as the one implemented in this trial is unlikely to be useful as a general strategy for the population recruited for this trial (ED patients with relatively severe drug problems and other life challenges).
Further research will be needed to explore more intensive interventions targeting the most severely affected patients with substance use disorder visiting the ED and to ascertain whether screening and brief interventions play a useful roll in the treatment of ED patients less severely affected by drug use disorders.
Citation: Bogenschutz MP, Donovan DM, Mandler RN, et al. Brief Intervention for Patients with Problematic Drug Use Presenting in Emergency Departments: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Internal Medicine 2014 (in press).