Pitfalls of Point-of-Care Urinary Drug Screening for Pain Management



What are the clinical needs for drug testing in pain management clinics? Can these needs be met by POC urinary drug screen testing?

Drug testing in pain management clinics is used to determine: (1) whether the patient is taking the pain medication as prescribed versus diverting it; and (2) whether the patient is abusing other substances.

To address the above needs, a POC urinary drug screen test must be able to detect the pain medication of interest and accurately identify any drugs of abuse.

Unfortunately, POC urinary drug screen testing has a limited ability to do these things. It is a screening tool only, and can produce false-positive or false-negative results due to the testing methodology. The cutoff concentration may also be too high in some cases for pain management use. Thus, any screening result that does not match the patient’s prescribed medication must be confirmed by mass spectrometry before the patient can be accused of non-compliance. However, many providers do not understand the presumptive nature of these test results and want to act on them immediately.

In addition, the drug of interest may not be screened by the POC test. For example, most opiate screens on the market primarily detect morphine and codeine. Depending on the assay used, hydrocodone and oxycodone may or may not be included. Some opioids, such as fentanyl, buprenorphine, tapentadol, and tramadol, are also not routinely detected by POC urine tests. However, this is not common knowledge to most providers. To many, if the opiate screen is negative, it means the patient is not taking the pain medication. Sadly, I have encountered cases in which patients were wrongfully dismissed from pain management programs because a test result was misinterpreted…


AACC is a global scientific and medical professional organization dedicated to clinical laboratory science and its application to healthcare…

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