Substance Abuse Screening gets new weapon–and a new trend in public health appears

Most people who practice an undesirable habit to one degree or another will fudge when they talk to their doctors about things like how much they exercise, whether they use recreational drugs, how much alchohol they drink, and so on. Now physicians can use some new CPT (Current Procedural Terminology) codes to to indicate they’ve given a patient a more formally structured substance abuse screening service instead of just telling the patient to stop doing it.

The idea is during a regular visit, your doctor can administer a fairly rigorous combination of electronic, verbal and written questionnaires and conduct a brief intervention. A White House deputy director says “‘Screening and brief interventions can keep patients healthier, improve physicians’ performance measures, and reduce hospital and healthcare costs. …screening and brief intervention is the most transformative substance abuse tool for medicine in decades.’ “

A solid prediction: this is going to change how insurance companies investigate and pay for things that might easily have been caused by the patient’s own practice of a bad habit. Here are some sobering statistics on motor vehicle accidents and injuries connected with drug/alchohol use. Like smoking, as alcohol and drug abuse become more public, users will begin to be socially censured.