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Intervention, follow-ups by primary care doctor curb drug use

A short conversation with a clinician, and later coaching by phone helped users reduce their drug intake by a third in a new study.

By Stephen Feller
Intervention, follow-ups by primary care doctor curb drug use
Risky drug users -- those who casually, but regularly use illicit drugs or misuse prescription drugs -- are not physiologically or psychologically addicted but are at a high risk for developing an actual dependency. Photo by Maxal Tamor/Shutterstock

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 16 (UPI) -- Not all drug users become addicted.

A new study found, however, that people at risk for addiction because of casual use of highly addictive substances reduced their intake after short interventions with a primary care doctor and follow-up phone calls.

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About 68 million people in the United States are considered "risky drug users," based on their casual, frequent or binge use of highly addictive substances such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine or misused prescription medications. While they do not show physiological or psychological signs of addiction, their choice of substance indicates a potential for addiction and other physical, mental and social problems.

"Risky drug use is a very important health problem because it can develop into drug addiction, which is a chronic relapsing brain disease with permanent effects and that is more costly to treat," said Dr. Lillian Gelberg, a professor of public health at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, in a press release. "It is important to reduce risky drug use before it becomes a chronic brain disease, at a time when patients may still have the power to do so."

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Researchers in the Quit Using Drugs Intervention Trial, or Project QUIT, enrolled 334 primary care patients between February 2011 and November 2012 at health centers in Los Angeles County. The mean age of participants -- all of whom were at clinics that serve low-income populations and have high rates of drug use -- was 41.7, 62.9 percent were men, and 37.7 percent were white.

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All of the participants took the World Health Organization's Alcohol, Smoking and Substance Involvement Screening Test to assess their risk for developing addiction, and then were split into two groups, with 163 individuals receiving no intervention.

The 171 participants who received intervention first had about three to four minutes of advice from a doctor about drugs and addiction, which was reinforced by a short video doctor message and a health education booklet.

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The advice, especially the in-person conversation, focused on drug addiction as a chronic brain disease, the need to reduce or quit using drugs in order to avoid addiction, the physical and mental effects of drug use, and how use of multiple drugs can accelerate the progression toward addiction.

Each of the intervention group participants got one or two follow-up phone call sessions with a clinician of about 20 or 30 minutes two and six weeks after their initial visit to the clinic.

Researchers reported three months after participants' interventions, as compared to the group that did not receive interventions, they used their favorite drug an average of 3.5 days less per month -- a 33 percent reduction in their self-reported drug use.

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The study is published in the journal Addiction.

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