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Short Interventions are Ineffective at Reducing Drug Abuse

Update Date: Aug 05, 2014 04:11 PM EDT

Prescription and illicit drug misuse can be tied to many preventable deaths each year. In a new study, researchers set out to examine the effectiveness of using brief intervention sessions to reduce unhealthy drug use, which includes prescription and illicit drugs. The researchers found that short interventions did not help dissuade people from abusing drugs.

For this study headed by Richard Saitz, M.D., of the Boston University School of Public Health, the researchers recruited 528 adult patients who had a history of unhealthy drug use. The participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups. In the first group, the adults had a brief negotiated interview (BNI) that lasted 10 to 15 minutes. The second group involved motivational interviewing (MOTIC), which lasted 30 to 45 minutes. The last group of people did not receive any kinds of intervention at all. Everyone was given a list of substance use disorder treatment options and resources that they can go to.

At the start of the study, 63 percent reported using marijuana as their main drug. 19 percent used cocaine and 17 percent used opioids. The researchers found that during the first 30 days, there were no significant differences in drug use among the three groups. The researchers stated that the interventions did not help reduce unhealthy drug use.

"Prescription drug misuse is particularly complex, with diagnostic confusion between misuse for symptoms (e.g., pain, anxiety), euphoria-seeking, and drug diversion. Brief counseling may simply be inadequate to address these complexities, even as an initial strategy," the authors concluded according to the press release. "These results do not support widespread implementation of illicit drug use and prescription drug misuse screening and brief intervention."

Ralph Hingson, Sc.D., M.P.H., of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Bethesda, MD., and Wilson M. Compton, M.D., M.P.E., of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Rockville, MD commented in an accompanying editorial, "Although these studies offer no direct evidence of effectiveness for universal drug screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment in primary care settings, exploring drug use with patients should remain a priority in primary care. The goal for clinical research is to develop and test new interventions with potential for benefiting patients. Drug screening and brief intervention research that focuses on adolescents and young adults is especially needed because rates of marijuana use among young people and the potency of marijuana have increased at the same time that recognition among youth of the health risks of marijuana use have declined. If brief interventions are insufficient, then easily accessible treatment services with long-term follow-up may be needed, as will development of efficient primary care referral approaches to address risky substance use and related physical and mental comorbidities."

The study was published in JAMA.

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