The Iowa Depart of Public Health has won a $7.5-million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for a new program to conduct more comprehensive screenings for substance abuse. Michele Tilotta is a registered nurse who will oversee the five-year program.

Tilotta says it will include universal drug screenings, brief interventions and referrals to treatment services for adults 18 years and older. “And we are actually going to implement our project initially at four federally-qualified health centers in the state and several of those have homeless outreach projects, and we are also going to be placing this program in the Iowa National Guard,” according to Tilotta.

The program will begin at health centers in Black Hawk, Polk, Scott and Woodbury counties. “We eventually as part of our plan want to diffuse this statewide and work with all hospitals, primary care physicians, rural health clinics, anywhere in a medical setting where people can prescreen,” Tilotta says.

The goal is to catch potential drug abuse problems early on when people visit their doctor or healthcare provider. “Everyone will have a universal prescreen, and that is a series of four to five questions. If that comes up positive then those folks will be referred to a more in-depth assessment. At that point if they do not want to participate in it, they do not have to participate in it. It is strictly voluntary,” Tilotta says.

Those who are referred to a more in-depth assessment can then be involved in a “brief intervention” if the assessment indicates a problem. Tilotta says the intervention has doctors talking about the impacts of their abuse. “It really seeks to educate them about their drinking limits, about what happens to their health if they exceed those drinking limits or their drug use. And it really encourages them — especially those who are at risk of health and other consequences — to look at it differently, to think differently and to start making some changes to improve their health,” Tiolotta says.

Tiolotta says preventing substance abuse has many benefits. “Decrease in medical consequences for them and health care costs and to the family and for the employer and to law enforcement. It’s the number one most preventable health issue in America, substance abuse,” Tiolatta says.

Health Department information shows nearly 30% of Americans, though not dependent on alcohol or drugs, consume at a level that increases their risk for physical, mental and social harm.