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The objective of this paper is to present a qualitative study of introducing substance misuse screening using the Screening Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) model, in primary care in Abu Dhabi.
Substance misuse in the UAE is an increasing problem. However religious beliefs and fear of legal consequences have prevented this topic from being openly discussed, risk levels identified through screening and treatment options offered.
A controlled trial was undertaken which included a qualitative process study which is reported here. Qualitative interviews with primary care physicians from two intervention clinics were undertaken to explore their views, experiences and attitudes towards substance misuse management in their clinic. Physicians were trained on SBIRT and on the research project process and documentation. At completion of the project, 10 months after the training, physicians (n=17) were invited to participate in an interview to explore their experiences of training and implementation of SBIRT. Interviews were recorded and transcribed. Inductive thematic coding was applied.
In total, 11 physicians were interviewed and three main themes emerged: (1) The SBIRT screening project, (2) cultural issues and (3) patient follow-up. Findings revealed a general willingness toward the concept of screening and delivering brief interventions in primary care although increased workload and uncertainties about remuneration for the service may be a barrier to future implementation. There was a perceived problem of substance misuse that was not currently being met and a strong perception that patients were not willing to reveal substance use due cultural barriers and fear of police involvement. In conclusion this qualitative process evaluation provided essential insight into implementing SBIRT in the Middle East. In conclusion, despite physician willingness and a clinical need for a substance misuse care pathway, the reluctance among patients to admit to substance use in this culture needs to be addressed to enable successful implementation.
This project evaluated the effectiveness of screening brief intervention and referral for treatment (SBIRT) in primary care in Abu Dhabi to manage patients with problematic substance use. This study aimed to determine whether: (i) training primary care physicians on the SBIRT model increased the identification of patients using substances at a harmful, hazardous or dependent level; (ii) training improved physicians’ knowledge, attitudes and beliefs in self-efficacy in managing substance use.
Substance use is increasing in the United Arab Emirates yet there has been no formal primary care intervention. SBIRT was considered an appropriate model given its endorsement by the WHO.
A controlled trial (two intervention and two matched control clinics) was undertaken. Intervention physicians (n=17) were trained in SBIRT. Physicians’ attitudes were measured before and after training and eight months after implementation. Target recruitment was 900 patients. Inclusion criteria were: consenting UAE national, ⩾18 years, using the ‘walk-in’ primary care clinic. Patient data was collected by physician-administered questionnaire. Prevalence of drug use was measured through electronic patient records.
A total of 906 patients were screened, aged 18–82 years and 496 (55%) were female. Of these, 5.7% reported use of amphetamine, 3.9% alcohol, 3.3%, sedatives, 1.7% opioids and 1.1% cannabis. In all, 21 people had a moderate/high ASSIST score and received a brief intervention, but did not attend follow-up; three high-risk people were referred for specialist treatment. Physicians’ attitudes towards patients with problematic substance use and providing treatment improved after training, but returned to pre-training levels after eight months. Including the 21 individuals identified from intervention screening, the prevalence of substance use increased to 0.208% (95% CI 0.154–0.274), significantly higher than in control clinics (P<0.001).
In conclusion, physicians were generally positive towards SBIRT and SBIRT increased recorded drug related conditions at a practice level. However, poor patient attendance at follow-up requires investigation.