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Student and Family Support (SFS)

State Requirement for Districts to Implement a Substance Use Related Verbal Screening Tool

To:Superintendents, Principals, and Charter School Leaders
From:Jeff Wulfson, Acting Commissioner
Date:January 26, 2018

Like many states, Massachusetts is currently experiencing an epidemic of opioid addiction. Youth substance use remains a significant public health concern for students, families, schools, and communities, and state and local leaders have prioritized preventing addiction and educating students about the dangers of substance misuse. One of the initiatives now in effect, as a result of efforts by the Baker administration and legislative leaders, is to require the use of a verbal screening tool to screen students for substance use disorders at two grade levels in public schools. This memo provides information about the verbal screening law.1


An Act Relative to Substance Use, Treatment, Education and Prevention was signed into law on March 14, 2016, as Chapter 52 of the Acts of 2016. Mass. General Laws chapter 71, section 96, as amended by St. 2016, c. 52, s. 15, requires each school district to develop and file with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) a policy regarding substance use prevention and the education of its students about the dangers of substance abuse. We are pleased to report that as of December 2017, 99% of districts have submitted their policies to ESE.

In addition, Mass. General Laws chapter 71, section 97, as amended by St. 2016, c. 52, s. 15, provides that, subject to appropriation, each city, town, regional school district, charter school or vocational school is to utilize a verbal screening tool to screen students for substance use disorders. Screenings are expected to take place annually at two different grade levels that are recommended by ESE, in consultation with the Department of Public Health (DPH). Schools must notify students' parents/guardians about the screenings, and a student or the student's parent/guardian may opt out of the screening by written notification at any time prior to or during the screening.

Verbal screening for substance use among adolescents, combined with appropriate intervention and follow-up, can help to reduce substance use harm during adolescence. Use of a valid screening tool will enable school personnel to detect risk for substance use-related problems and address those issues at an early stage. Details regarding grades, tools, and opt-out provisions are included below.

Timeline and Grade Levels

Beginning this 2017-2018 school year, each city, town, regional school district, charter school and vocational school district in Massachusetts is expected to implement the verbal substance use disorder screenings as set forth in Mass. General Laws chapter 71, section 97. The recommended grade levels are grades 7 and 9.

Schools are then required to report aggregate screening data to DPH not later than 90 days after the screenings.

State Appropriation

The fiscal year 2018 state budget (St. 2017, c. 47) includes an appropriation in line item 4512-0200 for DPH to support implementation of Mass. General Laws chapter 71, section 97, in school districts that are not currently funded by DPH.2

DESE is working with DPH to provide information to districts about how to access training, resources, and materials through DPH for use in implementing the screening.

Screening Tools

The verbal screening tool approved by DESE and DPH for district/school use is the CRAFFT-II Screening Interview. Training in the CRAFFT-II Screen is available from DPH to school district staff at no charge. Information on Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral for Treatment in Schools (SBIRT), which includes training in the CRAFFT-II Screen as well as information on implementation and other resources, can be found at SBIRT in Schools. Districts/schools can access information on the program there. They can register for a 6-hour SBIRT in Schools: Introductory Training at the School Health Institute for Education and Leadership Development site, as well as learn how to register for the optional 3-hour SBIRT in Schools: Implementation Essentials.

Alternative Substance Use Screening Policies and Programs

G. L. c. 71, s. 97 permits a school district to opt out of the requirement to use a verbal screening tool where the district has implemented an alternative substance use screening policy. DESE will provide a form for school districts to indicate a decision to opt out of the requirement. The superintendent of a district that chooses to opt out must sign the form and provide a detailed description of the district's alternative substance use screening policies and programs, including the evidence base that underlies the alternative approach adopted and the reasons why the approved verbal screening tool is not appropriate for the district.

Parent/Guardian Notification and Opt-out Procedure

Starting in 2018-2019, the school or district shall notify parents or guardians of the students to be screened, prior to the start of the school year. For 2017-2018, the school or district shall provide this notification as soon as possible - and in any event, before the screening takes place. The information for parents/guardians should state that the screening is for all students in the designated grades, is confidential, and that students or their parents/guardians may opt out of the screening. The SBIRT in Schools site includes a sample parent notification letter.

A student or the student's parent or guardian may opt out of the screening, in writing to the school, at any time prior to or during the screening.

Confidentiality and Consent

Schools may not make a record of any statement, response, or disclosure by a student in the verbal screening that identifies the student. Except in cases of immediate medical emergency or when a disclosure is otherwise required by state law, schools must keep confidential any student responses to the verbal screening and may not disclose any information obtained in a screening to any other person without the prior written consent of the student, parent or guardian. The SBIRT in Schools site includes consent forms for this purpose.

Additional Information

The text of the statute on verbal screenings, Mass. General Laws chapter 71, section 97, is attached. Information and resources on Substance Use Prevention and Intervention can be found on DESE's Safe and Supportive Schools webpages, including but not limited to Guidance on School Policies Regarding Substance Use Prevention . If you have questions, please contact DESE's Office of Student and Family Support via or 781-338-3010.


1 On November 4, 2017, Governor Baker proposed a second significant package of initiatives focused on fighting the opioid and heroin epidemic, including new legislation, An Act relative to Combatting Addition, Accessing Treatment, Reducing Prescriptions and Enhancing Prevention (the CARE Act), and administrative actions. Included in the administrative actions is an expansion of the existing verbal screening tool training program for school nurses to reach more students and school districts.

2 The FY2018 state budget includes the following language in appropriation 4512-0200 for DPH: "not less than $200,000 shall be expended for the implementation of section 97 of chapter 71 of the General Laws to support school districts that are not currently funded by the department of public health…" St. 2017, c. 47, s. 2, line item 4512-0200.

Last Updated: January 26, 2018

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