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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Single Question Substance Abuse Screen is More Effective

Substance abuse goes unnoticed by doctors all too often, due to improper screening practices. Countless patients are asked the wrong questions or they are not screened at all regarding their drinking patterns. It goes without saying, the earlier a problem is spotted, the better it is for everyone. A new study has found that physicians can determine whether their patients are abusing drugs or alcohol by asking just one question.

Dr. Richard Saitz, lead study author and professor of community health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health, believes that asking patients how many times in the past year they consumed five or more drinks in a day (for men), and four or more (for women) is as useful as administering a longer, more in depth screening questionnaires. Saitz says that substance abuse or dependence can be determined by asking, “How many times in the past year have you used an illegal drug or used a prescription medication for nonmedical reasons?”.

The typical drug and alcohol screens have anywhere from three to more than 80 questions, with multiple response options, according to Dr. Saitz. Many of the questions asked on alcohol and drug screens are redundant and it's possible that patients will not give accurate answers to all the questions.

“We found that single questions may be useful in both screening and preliminary assessment,” Dr. Saitz said in a BU news release. “Instead of extensive interviews or long questionnaires, which are a barrier to screening in primary care settings, this approach may make it much easier to identify and appropriately address unhealthy substance use.”

88 percent of patients with alcohol dependence were determined by the single question screen, and 97 percent of patients with drug dependence, according to Science Daily. Responses from 286 patients were studied, according to the report.  

The findings were published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

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