New health care codes went into effect Jan 1 for substance abuse screening and brief intervention.

The new Current Procedural Terminology (CPTR) codes issued by the American Medical Association (AMA) will aid in reporting screening services for drug and alcohol abuse.

The process increases the likelihood those with substance use disorders will receive appropriate interventions and helps physicians dedicate time and resources to assess patients’ risky substance use characteristics and behaviors. 

Dr Bertha K. Madras, deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Washington, DC, said substance use is one of the most significant public health challenges in the country. An estimated 22 million Americans abuse or are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Almost 95% of them are unaware they meet the clinical criteria for substance abuse or addiction, and have not sought treatment. 

With the new codes, physicians can assess patients’ drug and alcohol use—as they do for diabetes and obesity—and work to prevent, reduce, and treat those with substance abuse disorders. Health professionals will ask patients a series of questions to provide an on-the-spot assessment of drug and alcohol use, and if necessary, offer immediate intervention.

The new AMA Level I CPTR codes for medical services were published Oct 8, 2007, and will become fully effective this month. The two codes (99408 and 99409) will streamline reporting and reimbursement procedures for physicians who perform alcohol and/or substance (other than tobacco) abuse structured screening and brief intervention.