The Argument for New Jersey Statewide Adolescent Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT)

Substance misuse, mental illness and suicide have reached alarming levels in all New Jersey communities. For instance, the annual fatal overdose rate for 15-24 year olds was more than 9% from 2006-2015. Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) is an initiative aimed at mitigating this adverse trend in youth. It is an evidence-based, non-punitive, cost-effective, early intervention protocol that assists schools in identifying and mitigating student substance use and mental health issues that inhibit student’s long-term success. Prevention Is Key is privileged to provide this exciting initiative in up to ten Morris County schools. Our SBIRT program serves youth from 9-20 years old, which includes students in middle school, high school, and the beginning of college. Currently, we have six schools implementing SBIRT with other schools interested in our program.

Each school implementing SBIRT will need to have 1-2 designated staff members trained in SBIRT yearly by a qualified SBIRT trainer. These SBIRT designated staff member(s) from each school are tasked with conducting a five-ten minute screening of students by using the evidence-based CRAFFT II screening tool. The goal of this screening is to understand if a student has misused substances, or is at risk of misusing substances. If a student is found to have no risk, then the SBIRT designated staff member will reinforce positive behavior and the screening will be complete. If a student has a moderate to high risk of using substances based on their CRAFFT II score, the SBIRT designated staff member will have a brief intervention with the student. Brief Intervention focuses on motivational interviewing, which is aimed at gaining insight of risk factors that are apparent and potential motivation to change risky behaviors. If further assistance is needed, the school staff member will refer the student for treatment. Only 3% of students receive a score that indicates brief intervention is needed. Additionally, the most recent CRAFFT II screening tool focuses on nicotine with an elevated focus on vaping, which is one of the most commonly misused substances by youth and adolescents alike.

In New Jersey, our goal of implementing SBIRT would be beneficial for a plethora of reasons and thus, improve the lives of many. SBIRT is a cost-effective program. For instance, SBIRT decreases Medicaid spending. Every $1 spent on prevention and treatment results in $4 in health care savings and $7 in relation to law enforcement and criminal justice costs. Moreover, this program enhances the likelihood that youth will receive the help they need before their misuse becomes severe. Positive reinforcement is emphasized and health screenings become normalized with this program. SBIRT improves students’ educational attainment and can prevent the occurrence of substance use disorders later in life.

A simple five-to-ten minute screening and intervention has the capability to prevent years of addiction, saving not only the individual and family extensive pain but the fiscal cost to the community at large. We are very excited at the prospect of impacting so many lives, especially during this pandemic. Ultimately, the overarching goal of SBIRT is to delay and/or prevent youth substance misuse initiation, which will lead to a healthier tomorrow in our state. Together, schools and parents/guardians can make a difference for the youth of New Jersey.