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The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on School-Based Substance Use Prevention and Intervention Programs: Issues and Solutions


April 14, 2021

Abt Global facilitated a series of three hour-long discussions in the fall of 2020 to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation-funded school-based programs that use the screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT) framework. Grantees shared insights about the impact of the pandemic on students’ behavioral health, including mental and substance use disorders, and strategies for overcoming SBIRT implementation challenges caused by the pandemic. Key insights include:

  • New and existing partnerships between schools, community based organizations, healthcare providers, and parents and caregivers play a critical role in reaching youth and maximizing engagement in prevention interventions
  • Innovative solutions have rapidly evolved to identify students for SBIRT programs and to engage students in virtual environments, but access barriers remain
  • Adaptability and flexibility are critical when identifying and meeting youth needs in this uncertain time
  • Looking ahead, addressing policy barriers and improving community preparedness is critical to respond to future crises and ensure that all students have equal access to behavioral health services.

While grantees develop innovative solutions and meet new issues, the pandemic has created a unique opportunity to take advantage of the multifaceted role schools play in students’ lives and elevate school-based health services to meet youths’ needs.