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.
Clinicians commonly use urine drug tests to detect or validate self-reported drug use, particularly when beginning and maintaining opioid agonist therapy (for example buprenorphine or methadone). Until now, there has been no clinical consensus on urine drug testing frequency in Canada.
National guidelines for opioid use disorder released: Canadian consensus on urine drug testing frequency
Vancouver, B.C. [March 5, 2018] — “A first of its kind Canadian guideline setting out best practices for treating people with opioid addiction has been released today. The national guideline was based on provincial guidelines developed by the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) and implemented in British Columbia last year.” This guideline has been federalized and published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Health care professionals should follow the new guidelines.
Large Variation in Provincial Guidelines for Urine Drug Tests during Opioid Agonist Treatment
Before the new guidelines, each province had their own guidelines for treating opioid addiction. At that time, there was no summary of the published clinical practice guidelines for urine drug tests in Canada. Also, no one measured the consistency with which different provinces suggested administering drug screening. In June 2017, the American Society of Addiction Medicine released the national consensus document for appropriate use of drug testing.
Therefore, we looked at all policies and guidelines for Urine drug screening in Canada, examining the published clinical practice guidelines for each Canadian province and extracting all relevant data in March 2017. Our recent provincial guideline and policy scan found that urine drug screening frequency recommendations vary greatly among Provinces for persons receiving opioid agonist therapy for opioid addiction.
To read the whole story, please visit the journal website www.canadianjournalofaddiction.org or lookup the paper using the following citation:
Moss, E., McEachern, J., Adye-White, L., Priest, K., Gorfinkel, L., Wood, E., Cullen, W., Klimas, J. (2018) Large Variation in Provincial Guidelines for Urine Drug Screening during Opioid Agonist Treatment in Canada. Canadian Journal of Addiction, 9(2):6-9
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