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Shorter drug testing intervals are associated with improved drug misuse rates

Jeff Gudin, MD, Neel Mehta, MD, F. Leland McClure, PhD, Justin K. Niles, MA, Harvey W. Kaufman, MD


Objective: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that clinicians prescribing opioids for chronic pain should consider at least annual urine drug testing (UDT). We evaluated whether shorter intervals for repeat UDT are associated with decreased rates of drug misuse.

Design: Retrospective analysis of deidentified serial UDT and matched prescribing data.

Setting: We analyzed Quest Diagnostics 2016-2017 UDT results from new patients being monitored for prescription drug adherence, in nonsubstance use disorder (SUD) treatment environments.

Main Outcome Measures: Drug misuse was defined as the absence of a prescribed substance or the presence of a nonprescribed substance. Patients with 3 sets of the UDT results were included.

Results: UDT results from 49,601 patients (148,803 specimens) were tested. Declines in misuse between the first and second UDT were highest for those tested at the shortest intervals: approximately weekly, 19 percent; monthly, 15 percent; bimonthly, 12 percent; quarterly, 9 percent; semiannually, 3 percent; misuse rates increased by 1 percent for patients tested annually. Declines in misuse were more pronounced for opioids than other drug groups. Substantial declines in positivity were noted for heroin (32 percent) and nonprescribed fentanyl (10 percent). Declines in misuse between the second and third UDT followed a similar pattern.

Conclusions: UDT intervals of quarterly were associated with marked declines, but testing annually or semiannually was not associated with consistent decreases. Our findings suggest that clinical strategies that include serial testing conducted quarterly or sooner may be instrumental in decreasing drug misuse. Testing more frequently than “at least once annually” should be considered by clinicians monitoring potential drug misuse.


repeat drug testing, follow-up time intervals, opioids, nonprescribed drug use, prescription drug compliance

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