For teens with substance use disorders, screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT) can have long-term benefits, including sustained decreases in mental health disorders, according to research published in Pediatrics.

Researchers at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California examined data from electronic health records to determine the amount of health care received among adolescents with access to SBIRT services. The sample included 1871 adolescents ages 12 to 18 years who had received pediatric primary care delivered either by a pediatrician or by an embedded behavioral clinician (totaling 1255) and participants who worked with pediatricians who had no former SBIRT training (n=616).

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Researchers found that after 1 year of follow up, adolescents with access to SBIRT were less likely to have mental health or chronic medical conditions than those without SBIRT access. At 3 years, those with access to SBIRT also had fewer total outpatient visits and overall lower health care utilization.

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These findings suggest that providing access to SBIRT for adolescents may help them recover from substance abuse and avoid future problems. Researchers concluded, “We need to increase resources and focus on the role of behavioral health on the overall health and well-being of children and teenagers in our care.” They recommended further research examining the long-term health impacts of SBIRT, especially because substance abuse is often associated with injuries, suicide, and homicide, the 3 prevalent causes of adolescent mortality. Additionally, they recommend that pediatric primary care and adolescent clinics implement SBIRT in their practice.


Sterling S, Kline-Simon AH, Jones A, et al. Health care use over 3 years after adolescent SBIRT. Pediatrics. 2019;143(5):e20182803.