Urine drug screens: Not just for job applicants

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Although urine drug screens (UDS) are most commonly used to screen job applicants, some clinicians have started to use them as a tool for improving their patients’ clinical outcomes.1 Recently, some clinicians have begun using UDS to help patients who experience chronic pain and dependency (mainly on opioids) and for those who use diverted drugs to relieve these conditions. Many psychiatrists are concerned about the high cost of drug diversion, as well as the possibility of diversion-related patient mortality. Clinicians should therefore consider using UDS as a tool to help address these challenges.

Consider individualized UDS monitoring

The standard 5-substance UDS test panel consists of tetrahydrocannabinol, opiates, amphetamines, cocaine, and phencyclidine. Although this panel was sufficient for an employment screening-related UDS, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has rejected its use for patients with substance abuse. As part of its emphasis on the importance of incorporating preventative procedures, diagnostics, and surveillance protocols, the ASAM advocates using a rotating test panel in conjunction with a patient-specific UDS.2 This type of patient-specific regimen would take into account the dynamic nature of a patient’s health profile factors, including comorbid and psychosocial status, subjective pain features, and diverted drug use. Furthermore, the ASAM recommends evaluating patients for the concurrent use of other substances and agents, such as benzodiazepines, sleep-inducing medications, stimulants, and alcohol, because these can interact with opioids.

Consider extending individualized monitoring by implementing standard “cutoff” values for each drug; patients whose levels of a specific substance are above the established cutoff value are categorized as testing positive for the use of that substance. The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration favors adjusting UDS cutoffs, specifically the use of decreased cutoffs, to improve patient compliance.3 However, standardized drug concentration cutoff values may not be applicable for each patient; therefore, such values may need to be carefully tailored to each patient.

Additional drug monitoring techniques

Existing UDS practices, such as medication adherence and compliance, can be supplemented or alternately used with UDS panels that are modified to account for a patient’s fluctuating clinical conditions and concurrent medications. Point-of-care immunoassays, which provide accurate screening for medication compliance and adherence and possible drug diversion, should be used for routine monitoring. Using DNA-authenticated UDS also adds further control in monitoring a patient’s use of different drugs.4,5

In addition to being helpful for monitoring opioid use, a DNA-verified UDS can be used to evaluate for the presence of synthetic urine substitutes.6-8 Diversion remains a growing epidemiologic concern, and the number of cases is vastly underreported in the literature. The DNA-authenticated UDS can give clinicians greater precision in identifying synthetic and substituted urine among patient-provided samples.4

Using a combination of the methods described here can help expand a clinician’s ability to perform individualized drug monitoring, and verify whether a patient is adhering to his or her treatment regimen.

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