Screening and brief intervention to reduce marijuana use among youth and young adults in a pediatric emergency department

Edward Bernstein, Erika Edwards, David Dorfman, Tim Heeren, Caleb Bliss, Judith Bernstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

165 Scopus citations


Objectives: Marijuana was involved in 209,563 emergency department (ED) visits in 2006, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network. Although screening and brief intervention (SBI) has been effective in changing drinking among ED patients in a number of studies, tests of marijuana SBI in a pediatric emergency department (PED) have not yet been reported. The aim of this pilot study was to test whether SBI is effective in reducing marijuana consumption among youth and young adults presenting to a PED with a diverse range of clinical entities. Methods: A three-group randomized controlled preliminary trial was structured to test 1) differences between Intervention (Int) and standard Assessed Control (AC) groups in marijuana consumption, from baseline to 12 months, and 2) the feasibility of adding a Nonassessed Control (NAC) group to evaluate regression to the mean and assessment reactivity. Patients aged 14-21 years in an urban, academic PED were screened during 2006-2007, using standardized risk factor questions. Subjects were eligible if they used marijuana three or more times in the past 30 days, but were excluded for co-occurring high-risk alcohol use. Consented enrollees were randomized to NAC, AC, and Int groups in a two-stage process that permitted blinding to status during assessment and follow-up. NACs received a resource handout, written advice about marijuana use risks, and a 12-month follow-up appointment. ACs were assessed using standardized instruments and received resources, written advice, and 3- and 12-month follow-up appointments. The Int group received assessment, resources, written advice, 3- and 12-month appointments, a 20-minute structured conversation conducted by older peers, and a 10-day booster telephone call. A peer educator utilized a motivational style interview protocol adapted for adolescents to elicit daily life context and future goals, provide feedback, review pros and cons of marijuana use, assess readiness to change, evaluate strengths and assets, negotiate a contract for change, and make referrals to treatment and/or other resources. Measurements included demographic information; 30-day self-report of marijuana use; attempts to quit, cut back, or change conditions of use; and risk factor questions repeated at follow-up. Results: Among 7,804 PED patients screened, 325 were eligible; 210 consented and enrolled (Int, n = 68; AC, n = 71; NAC, n = 71), with a 12-month follow-up rate of 71%. For the primary objective, we compared Int to AC. At 12 months, Int participants were more likely to be abstinent for the past 30 days than ACs (odds ratio [OR] for reported abstinence = 2.89, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.22 to 6.84, p < 0.014). The Int group had greater reduction in days used, baseline to 12 months, controlling for baseline (Int = -7.1 vs. AC = -1.8), were less likely to have been high among those who smoked (OR = 0.39, 95% CI = 0.17 to 0.89, p < 0.05), and were more likely to receive referrals. In a linear regression model controlling for baseline use, NACs smoked 4 fewer days per month than ACs, but consumption was not significantly different, suggesting no assessment reactivity effect. Conclusions: A preliminary trial of SBI promoted marijuana abstinence and reduced consumption among PED patients aged 14-21 years. A no-contact condition for the NAC group over the year after enrollment was insufficient to capture enrollees for follow-up across a range of baseline acuity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1174-1185
Number of pages12
JournalAcademic Emergency Medicine
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Brief intervention
  • Emergency department
  • Marijuana
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Screening
  • Youth


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