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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU Questions Effectiveness of Referring Patients to Addiction Specialists from Primary Care

In recent years, federal policymakers have promoted drug screening, brief intervention, and referrals to specialists as key tactics for primary care clinicians to motivate patients with unhealthy drug use to seek help. But a new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers finds that such interventions did not significantly increase the likelihood of patients getting any addiction treatment—and that a “motivational” intervention approach actually lowered the odds that patients would enter treatment.

The study, published online in the journal Addiction, assigned more than 500 primary-care patients with recent unhealthy drug use to one of three groups: a 10- to 15-minute intervention by health educators, a 30- to 45-minute intervention that involved motivational interviewing by trained counselors, or no intervention. Patients in the intervention groups received treatment referrals that included “active efforts” by case managers to link them to programs.

Neither of the two interventions resulted in a higher likelihood of patients receiving treatment within six months, the study found. And the more extensive counseling resulted in lower odds of patients receiving addiction treatment. Regardless of intervention assignment, only 15 percent received any addiction treatment within six months of study entry.

“Our study’s results may reflect the fact that accessing treatment is a challenging process in primary care,” the research team said. “It is possible that (brief intervention) helped patients to realize why they might seek treatment, but not how to access treatment or help them feel empowered to seek treatment.”

To read more about the study, go to: