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SAMHSA News - March/April 2008, Volume 16, Number 2

Administrator’s Message—Behavioral Health Screening and Primary Care

One of SAMHSA’s most effective programs—the Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) Initiative—is reporting excellent outcomes in the field. (See Screening Works: Update from the Field.)

Preliminary SBIRT data show a total of 74 percent of high-risk individuals reported lowering their drug or alcohol consumption after one or more brief treatment sessions, and 48 percent reported stopping use.

Making behavioral health screening part of primary care makes sense. By taking a public health approach to substance abuse and mental health issues, we can lower health care costs because we’re reaching individuals before they need specialized treatment.

Another step forward in support of screening comes from the American Medical Association (AMA). In January 2008, the AMA introduced new health care codes for substance abuse screening and brief intervention.

These new codes offer a mechanism for health care providers to be reimbursed for using these tools. The codes will increase the likelihood that those with substance abuse problems receive an appropriate intervention before developing a disorder, and those with a disorder will be linked to appropriate treatment and recovery support services.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently approved “HCPCS codes” to reimburse for screening and brief interventions under Medicaid. Those codes now can be used on a state-by-state basis for early screening and intervention for substance use disorders.

For use under Medicare, CMS created “G codes” to reimburse providers for these services.

These changes signal a meaningful shift in how substance abuse is being viewed by those in general health care, in health policy, and in health care reimbursement.

The SBIRT model holds great promise. To help the Initiative reach its full potential, SAMHSA will be coordinating with many Federal agencies, including the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Terry L. Cline, Ph.D.
Administrator, SAMHSA

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