Identifying and addressing alcohol and substance abuse needs

The Northern Arizona Healthcare Foundation provided central oversight for a federal subaward from Health Choice Integrated Care (HCIC) to implement the Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) model, which uses a standard screening tool to identify, reduce, and prevent problematic use, abuse, and dependence on alcohol and illicit drugs.

Several facilities in northern Arizona use this the model including the Emergency Department (ED) at Flagstaff Medical Center (FMC), Spectrum Health in the Verde Valley, three North Country HealthCare clinics, and Northern Arizona University Health Services.  At the FMC Emergency Department, patients who participate in the screening are asked about alcohol use in the past year using the SBIRT model. All patients who have a trauma status and test positive for alcohol or drug use are also screened. Their answers may trigger a consultation from a Behavioral Health staff member.

Todd Parker, FMC Behavioral Health clinical manager, explains the consultations are designed to assess patients’ willingness to enter a substance abuse program or receive outpatient services.

“We have the conversation with the patient about their severity of use,” he said. “Based on that conversation, we ask about interest and desire in getting treatment. We use motivational interviewing skills to see if we can help the patient make decisions.”

Follow-up data, gathered from patients six months after their initial screening, has proved the screening has a real impact on patients. Forty percent of patients reported lower use of alcohol, with 27 percent abstaining from alcohol entirely. Fifty-eight percent of patients who used marijuana reported complete abstinence, and 10 percent said they lowered their use of the drug.

Though the original grant ended in June 2017, the SBIRT model for alcohol abuse will continue to be used by the FMC ED and the other facilities. A component to identify opioid abuse is being added in 2018, thanks to a new federal sub-award from HCIC.

For more information about resources to address substance abuse, visit: or call 928.213.6400.

Substance Abuse Facts:*

  • There are about 131 million adults who drink alcohol in the U.S.
  • 28% or 37 million drink at levels that put them at risk for dependency, health problems, accidents or injuries or involvement in behaviors that are destructive (sexual assault, domestic violence, etc.)
  • 2.4 million adults use prescription drugs for non-medical reasons.
  • About 35 million people have used recreational drugs at some point.


Sandra KowalskiComment