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Network Matters
News and Information for the
Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Network

December 2015

Substance Abuse Screening and Referral for Treatment

Substance abuse issues are prevalent and far-reaching, but early detection in the primary care setting and a comprehensive treatment plan, including referral for behavioral health services, can set patients on the path to wellness.

Screening for substance abuse issues

Because drug and alcohol dependence and addiction often lead to a host of related health complications, it is important to appropriately screen patients for common symptoms and indications of potential substance abuse. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers valuable screening tools. One such tool, SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment), aids in the delivery of early intervention and treatment services for people with substance abuse disorder.  Visit the SBIRT website for more information and resources.

Early detection and referral for treatment

The coordination of care between PCPs and behavioral health specialists is vital to the effective treatment of patients with substance-related disorders. Primary care visits provide invaluable opportunities for early detection and intervention, which can make a world of difference in getting at-risk substance users the care they need before the development of more severe physical or mental health complications.

Watching for potential signs and symptoms, paying attention to any documented instances of drug or alcohol abuse among the patient’s family members, and asking probing questions to help uncover any possible harmful substance-related tendencies are helpful in assessing the need for follow-up care. This type of screening, which can identify the appropriate level of treatment, should be followed by an effort to increase insight and awareness in the patient with regard to substance use, as well as inspire motivation toward behavioral change. Patients identified as needing more extensive treatment may be referred to a behavioral health practitioner for specialty care.

How Optum/UBH can help your patients — For complex clinical situations, Optum/UBH is available to provide consultative assistance. Practitioners can call the Optum/UBH Physicians Consultation Service at 800-292-2922. To refer a patient for behavioral health services and to facilitate the coordination of care, call Optum at 888-777-4742.

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Eric H. Schultz,
President and Chief Executive Officer

Robert Farias,
Vice President, Network Services

Annmarie Dadoly,

Joseph O'Riordan,

Kristin Edmonston,
Production Coordinator