ORLANDO (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Many clinicians dread discussing a screening test that suggests patients have not been compliant with their scheduled pain medication. Nevertheless, Edwin A. Salsitz, MD, said, those tests should be embraced for their value.

“Every single body that publishes guidelines regarding the use of opioids for chronic pain calls for the use of specimen testing. It is a standard of care,” reported Dr. Salsitz, medical director of office-based opioid therapy at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York.

“Urine drug testing is being performed for the patient, not to the patient, and it should increase, not decrease communication,” Dr. Salsitz said at the meeting. Most of all, “just because a urine test is positive, don’t dismiss the patient. That is not the point.”

Among biologic specimens used to monitor compliance with treatment plans, urine is the one most commonly performed, according to Dr. Salsitz, but it is not the only one. A growing number of centers are moving to saliva tests, he said, and those have several advantages. For example, collection of specimens is easier and opportunities for cheating are reduced.

Hair specimens pose an even lower risk of cheating, and they have a much longer drug detection window. Relative to blood and saliva specimens, which become positive almost immediately after drug exposures but lose validity within 24-48 hours, hair specimens do not become positive for days but still can prove positive for drugs months after exposure. Urine samples, which do not become positive for several hours after a drug exposure, typically remain reliable for several days.

Urine testing remains the most widely used screening tool and also the focus of most efforts to cheat, Dr. Salsitz said. He said an Internet search for strategies used to cheat on urine drug testing would generate pages of recommendations. For men, options include a prosthetic penis that permits cheating even for observed urine samples. Strapped to the body, the lifelike prosthetic includes a place to store a sample of urine that can be excreted by the prosthetic into a collection receptacle. This type of sophisticated effort to “game the system” can be a challenge when managing patients most intent on noncompliance.

For periodic drug screening at his own center, Dr. Salsitz reported that he often uses point-of-care urine testing. Although he conceded that those kits, which employ a dipstick technology similar to pregnancy tests, are not as reliable as laboratory analyses of urine samples, they are relatively inexpensive and provide immediate results. However, laboratory testing still may be needed if the patient denies drug use after a positive result or if a more comprehensive analysis of drug exposures is needed.

“I would not make a major clinical decision on the basis of point-of-care testing alone,” Dr. Salsitz reported. Indeed, he expressed caution about relying on specimen screening alone when other reasons exist to be concerned about noncompliance.

“It is unwise to accept at face value a urinary drug test report that seems to support an impression of clinical stability if, in fact, there is other clinical evidence to the contrary,” Dr. Salsitz said.

Successful screening strategies for noncompliance require an objective, nonjudgmental, and systematic approach, Dr. Salsitz said. Implementing a uniform policy common for all patients reduces the risk of conveying a sense of distrust. Indeed, uniform testing circumvents bias that could, for example, permit well-liked patients to avoid detection of noncompliance.

“In one study, reliance on aberrant behavior alone to trigger urine drug testing was estimated to miss almost half of those using drugs problematically,” Dr. Salsitz reported. However, he noted that the same study suggested that urine screening by itself also was insufficient. Rather, he said, “Monitoring urine and behavior identified more patients with inappropriate drug taking than either alone.”

Emphasizing that biologic specimen screening is “just a tool” in managing chronic pain patients on opioids, Dr. Salsitz reported several cases where he verified false-positive results with a point-of-care urine test using his own specimen, thereby validating claims made to him by patients. In one case, results were positive after he consumed a poppy bagel. “When the patient stopped eating poppy seed bagels, he stopped having positive tests,” Dr. Salsitz reported. In another case, a positive result occurred after consuming a commercially available tea made with coca leaves.

Dr. Salsitz reports that he has no relevant financial relationships to disclose. The meeting was held by the American Pain Society and Global Academy for Medical Education. Global Academy and this news organization are owned the same company.