Clinician Response to Aberrant Urine Drug Test Results of Patients Prescribed Opioid Therapy for Chronic Pain

Benjamin J. Morasco, Melissa H. Adams, Stephanie Hyde, Janet Zamudio, Steven K. Dobscha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Objective: Urine drug testing (UDT) is recommended for patients who are prescribed opioid medications, but little is known about the various strategies clinicians use to respond to aberrant UDT results. We sought to examine changes in opioid prescribing and implementation of other risk reduction activities following an aberrant UDT. Methods: In a national cohort of Veterans Affairs patients with new initiations of opioid therapy through 2013, we identified a random sample of 100 patients who had aberrant positive UDTs (results positive for nonprescribed/illicit substance), 100 who had aberrant negative UDTs (results negative for prescribed opioid), and 100 who had expected UDT results. We examined medical record data for opioid prescribing changes and risk reduction strategies in the 12 months following UDT. Results: Following an aberrant UDT, 17.5% of clinicians documented planning to discontinue or change the opioid dose and 52.5% initiated another strategy to reduce opioid-related risk. In multivariate analyses, variables associated with a planned change in opioid prescription status were having an aberrant positive UDT (odds ratio [OR], 30.77; 95% confidence interval [CI], 5.92-160.10) and higher prescription opioid dose (OR, 1.01; 95% CI, 1.01-1.02). The only variable associated with implementation of other risk reduction activities was having an aberrant positive UDT (OR, 0.29; 95% CI, 0.16-0.55). Discussion: The majority of clinicians enacted some type of opioid prescribing or other change to reduce risk following an aberrant UDT, and the action depended on whether the result was an aberrant positive or aberrant negative UDT. Experimental studies are needed to develop and test strategies for managing aberrant UDT results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-6
Number of pages6
JournalClinical Journal of Pain
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


  • chronic pain
  • opioid treatment guidelines
  • prescription opioids
  • urine drug test

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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