A controlled trial of screening, brief intervention and referral for treatment (SBIRT) implementation in primary care in the United Arab Emirates

Catriona Matheson, Christiane Pflanz-Sinclair, Amna Almarzouqi, Christine M Bond, Amanda Lee, Anwar Batieha, Hamad Abdulla Al-Ghaferi, A El Kashef

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6 Citations (Scopus)
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Aim This project evaluated the effectiveness of SBIRT (Screening Brief Intervention and Referral for Treatment) 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. Background 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. Methods 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. Findings 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. Twenty-one people had a moderate/high ASSIST score and received a Brief Intervention (BI), 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 to 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-175
Number of pages11
JournalPrimary Health Care Research and Development
Issue number2
Early online date9 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to acknowledge all the Primary Care Physicians and patients who participated in this project.


  • implementation
  • primary care
  • substance use
  • screening
  • Middle East


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