Nurse Practitioners Should Implement Drug Screening as Part of Primary Care

Reviewed by Abbie Jacobs, RN, BSN

A new UCLA study that has implications for the US as a whole focused on patients in East Los Angeles and Tijuana—both areas with a high amount of abuse of both illicit and prescription drugs.

The study found that moderate-to-high drug use was so prevalent in these areas that community clinics there should discreetly and routinely screen for the use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco as a part of primary care.

Patients took a survey on a tablet with a touch screen. Questions about drug use were mixed in with questions on topics such as exercise, healthy eating, and chronic illnesses, so that the people would not feel stigmatized.

The questions were available with audio in both English and Spanish for patients who had low levels of literacy. The tablets then presented them with yes or no as options. The surveys took less than 5 minutes to fill out.

The researchers were surprised to find rates of abuse of 19.4% in East LA and 5.7% in Tijuana. The numbers greatly exceeded those obtained from household surveys. Also surprising was that the rate of drug abuse in LA was nearly four times greater than that in Tijuana.

However, the rates of drug abuse in both cities were high enough that the researchers advocate that NPs and other nurses in community clinics should begin integrating screens for drug, tobacco, and alcohol use into routine primary care.

The research published in Substance Use and Misuse was part of a larger study that found that a few minutes of counseling could have surprising effects. This short period could help patients avoid the risky use of drugs and full-fledged addiction.