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White Paper: Sustainability of Adolescent Screening and Brief Intervention Services in Primary Care After Removal of Implementation Supports

Jan 31, 2023 | White Papers and Studies

This white paper “Sustainability of Adolescent Screening and Brief Intervention Services in Primary Care After Removal of Implementation Supports” was authored by , Friends Research Institute, Mosaic Group, and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. It was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs in January 2023.


OBJECTIVE: Although many health care organizations have sought to increase the integration of substance use services into clinical practice, such practice changes can prove difficult to sustain.

METHOD: Seven primary care clinics participated in an implementation study of screening and brief intervention (BI) services for adolescent patients (ages 12-17). All sites delivered screening and brief advice (BA) for low-risk use using a uniform protocol. Clinics were randomized to deliver BI using generalist (provider-delivered) or specialist (behavioral health clinician-delivered) models. Implementation was facilitated by multiple supporting activities (e.g., trainings, local “champion,” electronic health record [EHR] integration of screening and documentation, individualized feedback, project-specific materials, etc.). Data on the penetration of screening, BA, and BI delivery (N = 14,486 adolescent patient visits) were abstracted from the EHR for the 20-month implementation phase and a 12-month sustainability phase (during which implementation supports were removed).

RESULTS: Penetration of screening continued to slowly increase across the implementation-to-sustainability phases (62% vs. 70%; p = .04). Although uptake during implementation was low for BA (29%) and BI (22%), there was no significant decrease in service provision during the sustainability phase. Although overall delivery of BI was significantly higher in generalist compared with specialist sites (p < .001), sustainability did not differ by generalist versus specialist conditions. There were considerable differences in penetration across clinic sites.

CONCLUSIONS: Clinics sustained a high level of substance use screening. Uptake of intervention services was low but did not decrease further following the cessation of implementation supports. This study illustrates the challenges of successfully implementing and sustaining substance use services in adolescent primary care.

Friends Research Institute, located in Baltimore, Maryland, promotes health and well-being through research, grants administration, education and treatment.

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