Screening and intervention for illicit drug abuse: a national survey of primary care physicians and psychiatrists

Arch Intern Med. 2001 Jan 22;161(2):248-51. doi: 10.1001/archinte.161.2.248.


Background: Illicit drug abuse causes much morbidity and mortality, yet little is known about physicians' screening and intervention practices regarding illicit drug abuse.

Methods: We mailed a survey to a national sample of 2000 practicing general internists, family physicians, obstetricians and gynecologists, and psychiatrists to assess their screening and intervention practices for illicit drug abuse.

Results: Of 1082 respondents (adjusted response rate, 57%), 68% reported that they regularly ask new outpatients about drug use. For diagnosed illicit drug abuse, 55% reported that they routinely offer formal treatment referral, but 15% reported that they do not intervene. In multivariate logistic regression models, more optimal screening and intervention practices were associated with psychiatry specialty, confidence in obtaining the history of drug use, optimism about the effectiveness of therapy, less concern that patients will object, and fewer perceived time constraints.

Conclusions: Most physicians reported that they ask patients about illicit drug use, but a substantial minority inadequately intervene in diagnosed drug abuse. Initiatives to promote physician involvement in illicit drug abuse should include strategies to increase physicians' confidence in managing drug problems, engender optimism about the benefits of treatment, dispel concerns about patients' sensitivity regarding substance use, and address perceived time limitations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection
  • Family Practice / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Gynecology / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Medical History Taking / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Obstetrics / statistics & numerical data
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Psychiatry / statistics & numerical data*
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis*
  • United States