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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU Study Finds Brief Counseling for Drug Use Doesn’t Work

In the past decade, the U.S. has invested heavily in a brief screening-and-intervention protocol for alcohol and other drugs. But a new study led by a Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researcher casts doubt on whether that approach, which has proven successful with risky alcohol use, works for illicit drugs.


Led by Dr. Richard Saitz, professor and chair of community health sciences at BUSPH and professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), the study found that two well-established, brief counseling interventions did not reduce the continued use of marijuana, cocaine, or opioids. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Dr. Saitz said the findings raise questions about the federal government’s advocacy – through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — of screening and brief interventions to address unhealthy drug use.

“Brief counseling can work for a lot of things, but we found no evidence to support the widespread implementation of universal screening and brief intervention for illicit drug use or prescription drug misuse,” Dr. Saitz said. “In retrospect, drug use is a complicated problem. While there might have been some hope that something as simple as this would work, it now appears it doesn’t.”

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