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Substance Screening

Potential for Misuse

Pills in wrappers

Potential hazards of using opioids to treat chronic pain include their misuse, abuse, or diversion for recreation or profit. Opioid misuse in high-risk populations increases the risks of addiction, overdose, and, in some cases, death. These risks increase for patients with personal or family histories of drug abuse or dependence and patients in communities with limited job opportunities.

A patient's history of substance misuse doesn't absolutely preclude the use of opioid therapy. But, management of that patient should include increased monitoring and consultation with appropriate specialists.


Clinicians should screen patients both at the time of consideration of use of chronic opioid therapy and periodically during active treatment. Screening surveys may be helpful to a clinician in determining the risk of aberrant drug behaviors and guiding the frequency of monitoring. Screening surveys could be incorporated into the triage/nurse screening process prior to seeing the clinician. Screening can include surveys including but not limited to:

  • the revised Screener and Opioid Assessment for Patients With Pain (SOAPP-R)
  • Brief Risk Interview (BRI)
  • the Current Opioid Misuse Measure (COMM)
  • the Opioid Risk Tool (ORT)
  • biological screens, such as urine drug screens
  • assessment of drug effects during examinations
  • general alertness to other physical, emotional, and social indicators


Urine drug screens can be useful for monitoring adherence to therapy and for detecting the presence of other illicit or non-prescribed controlled substances that may point to a need for increased surveillance, consultation, and possibly discontinuation of current opioid treatment. Lab tests are also necessary to verify the presence of the prescribed opioid medication at levels that are consistent with dose and frequency in order to detect potential aberrant behavior such as diversion.

The clinician's choice of a urine drug screen needs to be consistent with the patient's pain therapy. There aren't any one-size-fits-all screens covering the entire range of opioids. The urine drug screen also needs to be consistent with drug use patterns in the community. Legal and illegal drug use patterns vary between communities. Immunoassay and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) urine tests measure metabolites (for the most part) that presume to indicate the use of controlled substances. Immunoassays are usually conducted in office. A positive result from an immunoassay leads to a follow-up test with the more accurate GC/MS (usually at an outside laboratory). False positives in urine testing remain a problem, even with GC/MS tests used for confirmation. And, not all GC/MS tests are created equal; the quality of GC/MS tests varies greatly between laboratories. Special lab test orders are required for the detection of methadone, buprenorphine, and tramadol.

Specimen integrity testing and result interpretation

Urine Specimen Integrity Test Previous Result Previous Interpretation Revised Result Revised Interpretation
Creatinine (mg/dL) < 2.0 Specimen unusually dilute, suspect specimen dilution/substitution < 2.0 Suspect specimen substitution
Creatinine (mg/dL) 2.0 - 19.9 Specimen unusually dilute 2.0 - 19.9 Specimen dilute
Creatinine (mg/dL) 20 - 200 No comment 20 - 300 Specimen normal
Creatinine (mg/dL) > 200 Specimen unusually concentrated > 300 Specimen concentrated
pH < 3 Specimen unsatisfactory, abnormally low pH, suspect specimen adulteration < 3 Specimen unsatisfactory, abnormally low pH, suspect specimen adulteration
pH 3 - 11 Specimen within normal limits 3 - 11 Specimen within normal limits
pH > 11 Specimen unsatisfactory, abnormally high pH, suspect specimen adulteration > 11 Specimen unsatisfactory, abnormally high pH, suspect specimen adulteration
General Oxidants Negative Specimen within normal limits Negative Specimen within normal limits
General Oxidants Positive Specimen unsatisfactory, presence of an oxidant detected, suspect specimen adulteration Positive Specimen unsatisfactory, presence of an oxidant detected, suspect specimen adulteration

Drug Cross-Reactants

Drug Cross-Reactant
Cannabinoids NSAIDs, Marinol, Protonix
Opioids Poppy seeds, chlorpromazine, rifampin, dextromethorphan, quinine
Amphetamines Ephedrine, methylphenidate, trazodone, bupropion, desipramine, amantadine, ranitidine, phenylpropanolamine, Vicks Vapor Spray
PCP Chlorpromazine, thioridazine, meperidine, dextromethorphan, diphenhydramine, doxylamine
Benzodiazepine Oxaprozin (Daypro), some herbal agents
ETOH Asthma inhalers (sometimes)
Methadone propoxyphene, Seroquel

Gas chromatography should confirm all positives; screening detects a presence or absence, not the concentration. Drug tests are not quantitative.

Source: Manchikanti L, et al. Protocol for accuracy of point of care (POC) or in-office urine drug testing (Immunoassay) in chronic pain patients: A prospective analysis of immunoassay and liquid chromatography tandem mass spectometry (LC/MS/MS). Pain Physician 2010; 13:E1-E22 (49).


Fishman, MD, Scott M. Responsible Opioid Prescribing: A Physician's Guide. Washington, DC: Waterford Life Sciences, 2007. pp. 21-25.

Manchikanti, MD, Laxmaiah, et al. "Protocol for Accuracy of Point of Care (POC) or In-Office Urine Drug Testing (Immunoassay) in Chronic Pain Patients: A Prospective Analysis of Immunoassay and Liquid Chromatography Tandem Mass Spectometry (LC/MS/MS) Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving ." [PDF - 500 KB] Pain Physician 13 (2010): E1-E22.

Jones, T., Moore, T. (2013). Preliminary Data on a New Opioid Risk Assessment Measure: The Brief Risk Interview. Journal of Opioid Management. 9 (1), 20-27.

Christo, P; Manchikanti, L; et al. "Urine Drug Testing in Chronic Pain." Pain Physician. (2011), 14: 123-143.

Melanson (etal). "Optimizing Urine Drug Testing for Monitoring Medication Compliance in Pain Management." Pain Med. (2013), Jul 30 (epub ahead of print).

Milone, M. "Laboratory Testing for Prescription Opioids." J Med Toxicol. (2012) 8:408-16. (Urine Drug Testing in Primary Care, accessed September 18, 2013)