Moving Away from the Tip of the Pyramid: Screening and Brief Intervention for Risky Alcohol and Opioid Use in Underserved Patients

Document Type


Publication Date



Purpose: Rates of risky substance use and substance use disorders are high in primary-care practices, yet the adoption of universal screening and brief intervention (SBI) has been slow and uneven. This study aimed to describe SBI-related attitudes, practices, and perspectives regarding practice change among medical providers in a minority-majority state.

Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional, on-line survey of a practice-based research network of medical providers serving predominantly Hispanic/Latinx and Native American patients in rural and urban settings. The main variables were clinician 1) perspectives on the need to address substance use problems in primary care, 2) current screening and intervention practices, and 3) satisfaction with and willingness to make changes to their practices.

Results: Although providers endorsed alcohol and opiate misuse to be significant problems in their practices, only 25% conducted universal screening. Providers reported focusing most of their screening efforts on those with substance use dependence. In general, providers rated importance of and ability to make practice changes moderately high. There was high interest in practice coordination with the community followed by interest in a collaborative care approach.

Conclusions: Providers mainly focus efforts on the relatively few patients at the tip of the pyramid (substance use dependence) rather than on the majority of patients who comprise the middle of the pyramid (risky substance use). Practice change strategies are needed to increase universal screening with a focus on risky substance use, particularly in practices serving racial/ethnic communities.


Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health under Award 1P20MD004811-01. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.