December 01, 2022

Identify and treat patients with substance use disorders

Guidelines for Primary Care Providers (PCPs)

Primary care providers play an important role in identifying and treating patients with substance use disorder. Here are some tools and resources you can use as you care for these patients.

Assessing use

You can use screening tools to identify a patient with substance use disorder. Online screening tools include the following:

  • SBIRT for drugs or alcohol
  • AUDIT PC for alcohol
  • CAGE AID for drugs or alcohol

These tools help guide discussions about the substance frequency and severity, as well as provide guidance on reduction and abstinence.

Initiating treatment

If your patient has a substance use disorder, it is recommended you begin treatment within 7 days of the initial diagnosis.1 Appointments can be virtual or in person. You can also provide support by:

  • Assisting in identifying their own reasons for change
  • Encouraging them to participate in the development of their treatment plan
  • Anticipating resistance and having ideas to overcome it
  • Helping them identify challenges to receiving care
  • Asking them to engage their family for support
  • Following up regularly to make sure they’re staying on track

Using medication assisted treatment (MAT) for alcohol and substance use

MAT is evidence-based treatment involving the use of FDA approved medication in combination with therapy to treat substance use disorders. The benefits of this treatment may include reduced cravings, increased periods of abstinence, and improved clinical outcomes. Patients who receive MAT are 50% more likely to remain sober, compared to those who receive detoxification or psychosocial treatment alone.

MAT medications include:

  • Naltrexone (oral and injectable)
  • Buprenorphine (oral, injectable and implant)
  • Methadone (oral)


Substance use disorder helpline: 855-780-5955

  • This is a 24/7 helpline for health care professionals and patients to: 
    • Identify local MAT and behavioral health treatment providers and provide targeted referrals for evidence-based care
    • Educate members/families about substance use
    • Assist in finding community support services
    • Assign a care advocate to provide ongoing support for up to 6 months, when appropriate

Provider directory

To locate a behavioral health provider, including virtual visit providers, visit our provider directory or call the number on the back of the member’s ID card.

Online resources

1National Committee for Quality Assurance (2023). Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS®) Technical Specifications.
2Calculated by Optum, based on relative risk ratios from the meta-analysis in: Nielsen S, Larance B, Degenhardt L, Gowing L, Kehler C, Lintzeris N. Opioid agonist treatment for pharmaceutical opioid dependent people. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2016, Issue 5. Art. No.: CD011117. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD011117.pub2, pages 17 and 19.
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