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Cost-Effectiveness Analysis of a Brief Intervention Delivered to Problem Drinkers Presenting at an Inner-City Hospital Emergency Department

F. Michael Kunz, Jr., Michael T. French, Shahrzad Bazargan-Hejazi

Objective: Alcohol screening and brief intervention (SBI) has gained widespread acceptance as an effective method for reducing problem drinking in at-risk populations. This study examines the cost and cost-effectiveness of an SBI pilot program delivered in an inner-city hospital emergency department (ED) to a traditionally underserved population. Method: A total of 1,036 subjects were screened for problem drinking during their visit to an ED. Eligible participants (N = 294) were randomly assigned to either a brief intervention group or a control group. As the result of attrition, a final sample of 194 (90 brief intervention; 104 control) participants remained at follow-up. The intervention consisted of a brief counseling session and a health information packet. The control group received only the packet. Intervention cost data were collected and analyzed using the Drug Abuse Treatment Cost Analysis Program. Selected outcomes at the 3-month follow-up included the raw Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test score, average weekly number of drinks and engaging in heavy drinking in the past month (>6 drinks on one occasion for men, >4 for women). Outcome differences between the intervention and control groups were estimated with both bivariate and multivariate techniques. Results: The average economic cost of the brief intervention was $632 per subject, of which screening ($497) was the largest component. In all cases, intervention subjects had better 3-month outcomes than control subjects, but the differences were not always statistically significant. Cost-effectiveness ratios were relatively small for all three outcomes, suggesting this type of intervention has the potential to be cost-effective under full implementation. Conclusions: The preliminary results demonstrate the potential advantage of further research in this area with larger samples and a longer follow-up period. (J. Stud. Alcohol 65: 363-370, 2004)