Frequent drug tests in addiction treatment have become a common practice despite proven benefits of such testing. When do tests become the end instead of the means to health and wellness?
In a previous post, I have explained how there was no agreement on the frequency of drug testing in Canada. Not until March 2018, when the British Columbia Centre on Substance use released the National guidelines for opioid use disorder. This article looks at the scientific evidence (or the lack of it) for frequent drug testing in addiction treatment. Read more or watch podcast below:
What is the study about?
We wanted to find out whether frequent urine drug tests correspond with better outcomes of treatment with opioid agonists such as methadone or buprenorphine.
How we did the study ?
We looked at the scientific literature from 1995 up until the end of 2017.
Then, we wanted to see how often the screening should be done while in the opiod agonist treatment. In the study, we included people of any gender, age or ethnicity.
Frequent drug tests lack evidence
We found only one higher quality studies with patients from USA
The study compared weekly and monthly urine drug testing with take-home doses of opioid agonists
Our review identified an urgent gap in research evidence underpinning an area of clinical importance and that is routinely reported by patients as an area of concern
Why is the study important?
Opioid use disorder is a chronic condition impacting the reward, motivation and memory pathways of the brain (ASAM, 2017).
Opioid agonist therapy is a first-line treatment for opioid use disorder.
The frequency and role of urine drug screening in opioid agonist treatment has received little research attention.
Although prior evidence suggests that testing frequency reflects philosophy and practice context, rather than differences in patient characteristics or clinical need, frequent urine testing remains under-researched.
Finally, the editorial of the Canadian Journal of Addiction featured this study as important for bringing additional management aspects for consideration:
McEachern J, Adye-White L, Priest KC, Moss E, Gorfinkel L, Wood E, Cullen W, Klimas J: Lacking evidence for the association between frequent urine drug screening and health outcomes of persons on opioid agonist therapy. International Journal of Drug Policy 2019, 64:30-33.