Reducing youth substance abuse rate through conversation without consequences

As the fatal overdose rate among youth continues to rise nationally, educators in New Jersey are looking to a prevention and early intervention program to keep students from becoming involved in substance abuse.

A new report released Tuesday by NJ Citizen Action examines the benefits of a program called SBIRT – which stands for “Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment” – and its success in several states. The author of the report, titled “Youth At Risk,” explained the components of the program:

“Its three parts begin with a series of questions exploring mental health and substance issues,” said Dan Meara. “Counselors generally use motivational interviewing to help steer the student towards healthier behavior. In rare instances, about 3%, the problem may be severe enough to merit a referral to treatment.”

A key component of the screenings is confidentiality and the understanding that most teens facing substance-use issues do want to talk, but are scared of getting in trouble.

Two bills that would bring a pilot of the SBIRT program to Bordentown and Paterson are working their way through the Legislature. If signed into law, the rollout will begin in 2021.