Alcohol-related ER visits leads to VVMC intervention program |

Alcohol-related ER visits leads to VVMC intervention program

Carlos Abel
VAIL CO, Colorado

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost half of all emergency room visits for trauma and/or injuries are alcohol related. Alcohol has even been consistently linked in 40 to 50 percent of deaths resulting from motor vehicle crashes, so the Vail Valley Medical Center implemented a program to screen for substance abuse in the ER and help people get treatment.

The program known as SBIRT Colorado stands for Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral to Treatment. SBIRT is a public health program funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration with the goal to make universal screening for substance use and brief interventions a routine standard of care in healthcare, similar to blood pressure and diabetes screenings.

The SBIRT program targets non-dependent users who may be at-risk of developing health and other consequences related to their alcohol use. These individuals may engage in binge drinking or drink above the recommended drinking guidelines (see guidelines chart). SBIRT has been implemented at VVMC for more than three years and in that time, more than 3,000 patients have been screened. Of these patients, approximately 15 percent received a brief intervention to help encourage behavior change and 240 received a referral to brief therapy or treatment for substance use.

Routine screening for alcohol and substance use in our area is extremely important because a recent report by Eagle County Health and Human Services, Public Health Division indicated that 23 percent of Eagle County residents are affected by substance abuse. Colorado ranked fifth in the nation for per capita alcohol consumption and our high volume of tourists may use alcohol or drugs as a way to relax or unwind on vacation, making us more susceptible to alcohol related trauma.

Alcohol and illicit drug consumption is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States, accounting for approximately 100,000 deaths annually. Early intervention is essential to preventing health consequence and by training healthcare providers to implement SBIRT as a universal screening process similar to screening for hypertension, healthcare costs can be reduced and patients’ health can be improved.

For the next year, SBIRT Colorado is offering free in-office training sessions for healthcare providers throughout Colorado to raise awareness, encourage implementation of standardized screening and brief intervention processes and stimulate prevention. With minimal training, screening and brief intervention can be incorporated into general check-ups, thus raising awareness about one’s responsibility for good health.

To schedule free training sessions and learn more about the No. 1 preventable health issue, healthcare professionals are invited to call 303-369-0039, ext. 245,or e-mail at

Carlos Abel is a health educator and runs the SBIRT program at VVMC. He has worked for VVMC for nearly four years.

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