A randomized study of the use of screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT) for drug and alcohol use with jail inmates
Background: Screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT) is an evidence-based practice that has been shown to reduce alcohol and drug use in healthcare, educational, and other settings, but research on the effectiveness of SBIRT with populations involved in the criminal justice system is limited. These populations have high rates of substance use but have limited access to interventions. Methods: The study randomized 732 jail inmates from a large urban jail to the SBIRT intervention or to the control group. Using the Alcohol, Smoking, and Substance Involvement Screening Test (ASSIST), the intervention assessed the risk level for drug and alcohol misuse by inmates and provided those who were at low or medium risk with a brief intervention in jail and referred those at high risk to community treatment following release, including the opportunity to participate in a brief treatment (eight sessions) protocol. Using interview and records data from a 12-month follow-up, analyses compared the two groups with respect to the primary study outcomes of reductions in drug and alcohol use and the secondary outcomes of participation in treatment, rearrest, reduction in HIV risk behaviors, and quality of life. In addition, the costs of delivering the SBIRT intervention were calculated. Results: When baseline differences were controlled, the groups did not differ at follow-up on any of the primary or secondary outcomes. Conclusions: Future research should develop and evaluate SBIRT models that are specifically adapted to the characteristics and needs of the jail population. Until more favorable results emerge, attempts to use SBIRT with jail inmates should be implemented with caution, if at all. Trial registration number: NCT01683643
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