Expand SBIRT Program

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Introductory Paragraph

SBIRT is an abbreviation of Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment. It is a popular model for prevention and early intervention because all patients are screened regardless of an identified disorder. This allows healthcare professionals to reach a wider range of people - not just those who are seeking treatment for substance use disorder (SUD) or behavioral health. This is especially critical for those who may be at risk for substance use disorder but may not meet established criteria. Additionally, SBIRT screens for all types of substance use, not just dependencies.

This evidence-based, public health approach is a paradigm shift in substance-use treatment because SBIRT places risky substance use where it belongs—in the realm of healthcare. Routine screening helps identify and intervene with patients whose use puts them at risk for health issues. SBIRT focuses on identifying risky substance use to help prevent the onset of the more costly disease of addiction. Similar to preventive screenings for chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and hypertension, SBIRT is an effective tool for identifying risk levels related to substance use and for providing the appropriate intervention. Expanding the use of SBIRT can provide critical pathways for people to access treatment earlier.

Key Information

Communities can expand the use of SBIRT tools by increasing public awareness of the SBIRT approach and the value of identifying people who are at high risk or might be using substances. SAMHSA supports a research-based comprehensive behavioral health SBIRT model which reflects the six following characteristics: [1]

  • It is brief. The initial screening is accomplished quickly (about 5-10 minutes) and the intervention and treatment components indicated by the screening results are completed in significantly less time than traditional substance abuse specialty care.
  • Screening is universal. The patients, clients, students, or other target populations are all screened as part of the standard intake process.
  • One or more specific behaviors are targeted. The screening tool addresses a specific behavioral characteristic deemed to be problematic, or pre-conditional to substance dependence or other diagnoses.
  • The services occur in a public health, or other non-substance use treatment setting.
  • It is comprehensive. The program includes a seamless transition between brief universal screening, brief intervention and/or brief treatment, and referral to care.
  • Strong research or substantial experiential evidence supports the model. At a minimum, programmatic outcomes demonstrate a successful approach.

According to SAMHSA, one of the benefits of the SBIRT approach is that it is easy to learn relative to other behavioral treatment techniques that may require lengthy specialized training. As such, it can be implemented by diverse health professionals who work in busy medical settings -- physicians, nurses, social workers, health educators, and paraprofessionals.

The SBIRT Process

Screening. The very first step of the SBIRT process is screening. Ideally, it is used universally -- whether at an annual physical exam or other regularly occurring appointments with a provider or healthcare specialist. It uses a quick and simple method of identifying patients who use alcohol or other substances at risky levels, identifies use or experimenting, can help identify individuals who use substances at risky levels, as well as those who are already experiencing substance use-related issues.

Brief Intervention. After an initial screening, the individual may be referred for a brief intervention where a healthcare professional engages a patient in a short conversation, providing feedback and advice. According to SAMHSA, commonly used models for brief interventions treatment include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy
  • Community Reinforcement Approach
  • Solution-focused Therapy

Referral to Treatment If the patient requires additional services, the healthcare professional may recommend a brief therapy or treatment. SAMHSA recommends that referral to treatment is a critical component of the SBIRT process for patients who screen showing that they need additional services. It involves establishing a clear method of follow-up with patients that have been identified as having a possible dependency on a substance or in need of specialized treatment. The referral to treatment process consists of assisting a patient with accessing specialized treatment, selecting treatment facilities, and helping navigate any barriers such as treatment cost or lack of transportation that could hinder treatment in a specialty setting.

Models for brief treatment recommended by SAMHSA include:

  • Brief Negotiated Interview
  • Brief Counseling
  • FRAMES (Feedback, Responsibility, Menu of options, Empathy, Self-efficacy)
  • Motivational Interviewing (MI) techniques

Integration of SBIRT

Besides typical healthcare settings, there are many other places where professionals come into contact with people who may be at risk of substance use disorder.

  • Hospitals and Emergency Rooms. Individuals with SUD or just occasional use regularly access emergency care. Utilizing the SBIRT approach with individuals seeking care can be beneficial. A 2018 study examined an SBIRT program in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania emergency rooms and measured Medicaid claims data. It concluded that SBIRT had the potential to reduce healthcare costs and that SBIRT use in the emergency department can be readily incorporated into existing practice settings. [2]
  • Dentists and Oral Surgeons can play an important role in SBIRT. A study in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) showed that in the late 90s, dentists were the top specialty providers of immediate-release opioids, accounting for 15.5% of those prescriptions. [3]The American Dental Association recommends dentists and oral surgeons incorporate NIDA's "Screening for Substance Use in the Dental Setting" to help dental professionals recognize the signs of risky substance use and addiction. [4]
  • Community Health Centers and Clinics. Community health providers offer excellent opportunities for early intervention with at-risk substance users and intervention for persons with SUDs and mental health issues. The state of New Hampshire was an early adopter of SBIRT in a community setting. By incorporating SBIRT, New Hampshire found that universal screening lowers the barriers to early intervention and treatment, integrated care, and increased positive outcomes for patients. [5]
  • Schools. An estimated 310,000 adolescents (aged 12-17) misused prescription pain relievers for the first time in 2018 - that's 850 teens every day. [6]Many states have moved forward to expand SBIRT in school settings. In fact, schools offer a prime opportunity to identify, support, and redirect students in middle school and high school. Massachusetts was one of the first states to require SBIRT in a school setting and is considered a model for school-based SBIRT [7]. Other states now incorporating SBIRT in schools include New York, Pennsylvania, California, Florida, and Texas. A 2017 study found that universal delivery of school-based SBIRT to all students -- not just substance-using students -- provides 2 types of prevention. [8]First, it can prevent the onset of substance use by motivating abstinent students to remain abstinent. Second, it can reduce substance use among users by providing education on the consequences of substance use and by brainstorming strategies to cut down or quit if the student wishes to do so. The School-Based Health Alliance is currently testing and refining the adaptation of school-based SBIRT into 17 health care settings in seven states.[9]

Relevant Research

A growing body of evidence demonstrates SBIRT’s effectiveness in creating positive outcomes for those with substance use disorder. A 2017 report "Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment:implications of SAMHSA’s SBIRT initiative for substance abuse policy and practice" studied eleven multi-site programs of SAMHSA grant recipients each funded for 5 years to promote the use and implementation of SBIRT. [10]They screened more than 1 million people and reviewed five years of SBIRT research, concluding that its implementation was associated with improvements in treatment system equity, efficiency, and economy, including:

  • Greater intervention intensity was associated with larger decreases in substance use.
  • Brief intervention and treatment had positive outcomes- brief intervention was more cost-effective for most substances.
  • Adapts successfully to the needs of early identification efforts for harmful use of alcohol and illicit drugs.
  • Integrates management of substance use disorders into primary care and general medicine.

Impactful Federal, State, and Local Policies

SAFE Solutions is an ever-growing platform. Currently limited information is readily available for this section. SAFE Project is dedicated to providing communities with the most relevant and innovative materials. We will continue to regularly monitor and make updates accordingly with community input and subject matter expert collaboration. Please check back soon.

Available Tools and Resources

  • SAMHSA offers a wide list of general resources for SBIRT with links to technical assistance, online apps, and other research.[11]

Electronic Health Records (EHR). One way to enhance the impact of SBIRT is to integrate information from the process into the EHR. [12] An EHR Toolkit and links to recorded webinars are provided by the Institute for Research, Education and Training in Addictions (IRETA). [13] This youtube resource [14] is provided by IRETA and SAMHSA's Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network [15] and provides a good overview on implementing the integration of SBIRT data into EHRs.

An SBIRT website at the University of Missouri-Kansas City provides links to all of the following resources for three different populations - adolescents, older adults, and women: [16]

For Adolescents:

  • SBIRT for Adolescents - Sharon Levy, MD, MPH is a board-certified Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician and has recorded a webinar with valuable information about screening and brief intervention to prevent or reduce substance use in youth.[17].
  • SBIRT Oregon - workflow, screening forms, clinical tools, curriculum, and video demonstrations
  • SBIRT for Youth Learning Community - contains information about applying SBIRT in various settings with live and webinar information [18]
  • Adolescent SBIRT Curriculum - skills based education on Adolescent SBIRT. Contains Instructor's Toolkit with a Learner's Guide to Adolescent SBIRT with supplemental resources, and web-based SBI with simulation program [19]
  • NIAAA Alcohol Screening And Brief Intervention For Youth: A Practitioner's Guide - information on screening and brief intervention for youth ages 9 to 18 years of age [20].
  • NIDA Principles Of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide - contains a guide with 13 researched-based principles of adolescent substance use disorder treatment [21]

For Older Adults:

  • Prescription Drug Abuse: Older Adults - NIDA highlights issues surrounding prescription drug misuse among older adults [22]
  • SBIRT and Older Adults - this website contains webinars that address the use of SBRIT with older adults [23]
  • Florida BRITE Project - funded by SAMHSA, this SBIRT grant focuses on implementing SBIRT with older adults
  • Older Americans Behavioral Health Issue Brief 3: Screening And Preventative Brief Interventions For Alcohol And Psychoactive Medication Misuse/Abuse - covers the basics of SBIRT published by SAMHSA and the Administration on Aging [24]

For Women:

  • Substance Use and Women - covers substance use issues among women, including sex and gender differences in substance use, substance use while pregnant and breastfeeding, sex and gender differences in substance use disorder treatment, other sex and gender issues for women related to substance use from the NIDA. [25]
  • Special Considerations for Women - This article provides information on the role of SBIRT in averting fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) [26]
  • ATTC Center of Excellence on Behavioral Health for Pregnant and Postpartum Women and Their Families - contains resources on a family-centered approach to behavioral health support for pregnant and postpartum women, including links to recent literature and government publications, online courses, and training. [27]
  • SBIRT Oregon Pregnancy Clinical Tools - "SBIRT Oregon offers a reference sheet, pocket card, and patient handout for providers to use with pregnant women who are using substances." [28]
  • Behavioral Health Risks Screening Tool For Pregnant Women - This tool used to screen pregnant women for substance use was developed by the Institute for Health and Recovery.[29]

Promising Practices

If a community wants to expand SBIRT, it may require training a large number of people. One cost-effective option to accomplish this is through the use of technology-supported trainings:

  • IRETA (The Institute for Research, Education, and Training in Addiction) provides online training for both professionals and the public, as well as free webinars and on-site prescriber education[30].
  • NORC is a public policy and social research organization affiliated with the University of Chicago. They provide hosted Webinars on Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) training includes resources for professionals, adolescent SBIRT, workplace/EAP, community stakeholders, and other addiction or behavioral professionals. NORC provides SBIRT education in both on-demand and live webinars. [31]
  • Kognito offers accredited technology-based training on SBIRT for youth using innovative simulations to evaluate the skills of those taking the training. [32] The program was developed in collaboration with NORC at the University of Chicago and has been adopted by more than 40 schools of health professions and state agencies. Additionally, the Kognito Conversation Platform[33] has an innovative behavior change model that integrates several evidence-based models and techniques, game mechanics, and learning principles. Kognito is listed in the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP).

Communities can also enhance SBIRT by incorporating technology through new screening tools. These tools make it easier for health professions to expand initial screenings while opening up a new avenue to engage patients and individuals. Screening tools may include phone apps, tablet-based screening, computer-administered screening, interactive voice response, web-based or even text-based.

  • SBIRT Oregon App[34]: The Department of Family Medicine at Oregon Health and Science University designed online resources and an SBIRT app for primary care and emergency medicine settings in Oregon and the U.S. The patient uses a web-based screening app for tablet, phone, or desktop, which quickly screens and assesses them for substance use and depression, converts answers into chart-ready notes, reads questions out loud for patients with low literacy, and delivers screening tools in English or Spanish.
  • Screen for Opioid Abuse Risk (SOAR in Ohio, also known as OARS)[35] was developed as a comprehensive self-administered measure of potential risk. It includes a wide range of critical elements noted in the literature to be relevant to opioid risk. This 43-question assessment is administered using a tablet and takes about 10 - 12 minutes to complete. The assessment is instantly scored and a report is available to the prescribing physician. The report provides a summary opioid risk profile and a multidimensional assessment of risk factors. SOAR also provides depression and anxiety scores that can be used for SBIRT assessments and wellness visits.


  1. https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/sbirtwhitepaper_0.pdf
  2. https://warmhandoff.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Safe-Landing-ED.pdf
  3. https://jada.ada.org/article/S0002-8177(18)30419-7/pdf
  4. https://www.drugabuse.gov/nidamed-medical-health-professionals/science-to-medicine/screening-substance-use/in-dental-setting
  5. http://sbirtnh.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/The-Power-of-Best-Practices-Launching-SBIRT-in-a-Community-Health-Center.pdf
  6. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/report/2018-nsduh-annual-national-report
  7. https://www.communitycatalyst.org/resources/publications/document/Massachusetts-Provides-a-Model-for-Addressing-Students-Risky-Substance-Use-7_6_18.pdf
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5753915/
  9. http://www.sbh4all.org/current_initiatives/sbirt-in-sbhcs/
  10. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/add.13675
  11. https://www.samhsa.gov/sbirt
  12. https://www.indianasbirt.org/ehr-modification
  13. https://ireta.org/resources/electronic-health-record-toolkit/
  14. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faO_bJdNyBQ
  15. https://attcnetwork.org/
  16. https://www.sbirt.care/resources.aspx
  17. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtCd4jATtFw
  18. https://ireta.org/resources/sbirt-for-youth-learning-community-webinar-introduction-review-of-research/
  19. https://sbirt.webs.com/curriculum
  20. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/professional-education-materials/alcohol-screening-and-brief-intervention-youth-practitioners-guide
  21. https://nida.nih.gov/sites/default/files/podata_1_17_14.pdf
  22. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/misuse-prescription-drugs/what-scope-prescription-drug-misuse
  23. https://bigsbirteducation.webs.com/
  24. https://www.ncoa.org/wp-content/uploads/Issue-Brief-3-Screening-Brief-Intervention_508_Color.pdf
  25. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/substance-use-in-women
  26. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31334924/
  27. https://attcppwtools.org
  28. https://www.sbirtoregon.org/clinic-tools/
  29. https://d3vz56oilt3wha.cloudfront.net/resources/5p_forms/5Ps%20screening%20tool%20-%20English.pdf
  30. https://ireta.org/training/overview/
  31. https://www.sbirteducation.com/
  32. https://kognito.com/products/sbi-with-adolescents
  33. https://kognito.com/approach
  34. http://www.sbirtoregon.org/screening-app/
  35. https://intera.solutions/soar-ohio-screen-opioid-abuse-risk/