Two new studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggest that brief counseling may not be effective in counteracting drug use.
Previous research has shown brief interventions can help some problem drinkers, NPR reports.
Public health officials have been urging primary care doctors and hospital emergency rooms to ask patients about drug use, and to immediately give those with a drug problem a 10- to 15-minute counseling session, known as a brief intervention.
One of the new studies looked at more than 500 people who were determined to have a drug problem, based on a verbal screening at a primary care clinic. They were divided into three groups. The first two groups received brief counseling, while the third group received no counseling. After six months, those who had received brief counseling had not reduced drug use any more than people who received no counseling.
A second study found people who received brief counseling and a short phone call two weeks later did not reduce their drug use more than people who did not receive counseling. People with the most severe drug problems who received counseling were more likely to seek specialty care later on.
"I think it was wishful thinking that a problem as complex could be solved with a simple intervention," said Richard Saitz of Boston University, author of the first study. He said some patients who come in for a routine checkup and are told they have a serious drug problem may be overwhelmed by the information. For these patients, a brief counseling session is unlikely to help.
Dr. H. Westley Clark, Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, told NPR the brief intervention model is very useful for many patients. "But as you popularize the intervention, you want to refine your approach," he noted. Clark says brief interventions may not work for severe cases of drug use. He called for better training for health care providers to help them match patients with the best treatment.