Screening for Unhealthy Drug Use: Updated Evidence Report and Systematic Review for the US Preventive Services Task Force

Carrie D. Patnode, Leslie A. Perdue, Megan Rushkin, Tracy Dana, Ian Blazina, Christina Bougatsos, Sara Grusing, Elizabeth A. O'Connor, Rongwei Fu, Roger Chou

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Importance: Illicit drug use is among the most common causes of preventable morbidity and mortality in the US. Objective: To systematically review the literature on screening and interventions for drug use to inform the US Preventive Services Task Force. Data Sources: MEDLINE, PubMed, PsycINFO, Embase, and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials through September 18, 2018; literature surveillance through September 21, 2019. Study Selection: Test accuracy studies to detect drug misuse and randomized clinical trials of screening and interventions to reduce drug use. Data Extraction and Synthesis: Critical appraisal and data abstraction by 2 reviewers and random-effects meta-analyses. Main Outcomes and Measures: Sensitivity, specificity, drug use and other health, social, and legal outcomes. Results: Ninety-nine studies (N = 84206) were included. Twenty-eight studies (n = 65720) addressed drug screening accuracy. Among adults, sensitivity and specificity of screening tools for detecting unhealthy drug use ranged from 0.71 to 0.94 and 0.87 to 0.97, respectively. Interventions to reduce drug use were evaluated in 52 trials (n = 15659) of psychosocial interventions, 7 trials (n = 1109) of opioid agonist therapy, and 13 trials (n = 1718) of naltrexone. Psychosocial interventions were associated with increased likelihood of drug use abstinence (15 trials, n = 3636; relative risk [RR], 1.60 [95% CI, 1.24 to 2.13]; absolute risk difference [ARD], 9% [95% CI, 5% to 15%]) and reduced number of drug use days (19 trials, n = 5085; mean difference, -0.49 day in the last 7 days [95% CI, -0.85 to -0.13]) vs no psychosocial intervention at 3- to 4-month follow-up. In treatment-seeking populations, opioid agonist therapy and naltrexone were associated with decreased risk of drug use relapse (4 trials, n = 567; RR, 0.75 [95% CI, 0.59 to 0.82]; ARD, -35% [95% CI, -67% to -3%] and 12 trials, n = 1599; RR, 0.73 [95% CI, 0.62 to 0.85]; ARD, -18% [95% CI, -26% to -10%], respectively) vs placebo or no medication. While evidence on harms was limited, it indicated no increased risk of serious adverse events. Conclusions and Relevance: Several screening instruments with acceptable sensitivity and specificity are available to screen for drug use, although there is no direct evidence on the benefits or harms of screening. Pharmacotherapy and psychosocial interventions are effective at improving drug use outcomes, but evidence of effectiveness remains primarily derived from trials conducted in treatment-seeking populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2310-2328
Number of pages19
JournalJAMA - Journal of the American Medical Association
Issue number22
StatePublished - Jun 9 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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