Physicians Ill Informed On Drug Testing, Study Says

Boston, MA: Pediatricians who order drug screens for their patients often possess only limited knowledge of how to administer the test and interpret its results, according to survey data published this month in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Three hundred fifty-nine physicians participated in the survey, which was conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston. Among the respondents, 95 percent said that they had ordered urine drug screening for their patients. However, fewer than 25 percent of them reported that they administered the tests in accordance with federal guidelines, and only 26 percent said that they performed confirmatory testing to weed out erroneous (“false positive”) results. Additionally, few physicians were able to accurately respond to survey questions regarding marijuana detection and passive exposure to cannabis smoke, and less than one percent of respondents correctly identified the range of substances that could cause “false positive” test results.

“Overall, our findings suggest that primary care physicians are not fully aware of the limitations of drug testing and do not use recommended procedures for collecting and validating urine drug test specimens,” authors concluded. “The primary care workforce is not prepared to provide guidance to schools, parents, or patients with questions regarding drug testing.”

A previous study published last year in the journal Pediatrics found that home drug testing kits sold online fail to provide adequate information regarding how to use the products properly, and downplay the possibility of inaccurate results.

The Harvard study appears the same week that Bush administration officials unveiled their 2006 anti-drug strategy, which calls for the increased use of random student drug testing in schools. The White House had previously called for a 150 percent increase in federal funding for student drug testing in 2005, and issued grants to 350 schools nationwide to pay for implementing drug testing programs.

This spring, for the third consecutive year, the White House is sponsoring a series of regional summits to encourage middle and high-school officials to enact random, student drug testing in public schools.

For more information, please contact Paul Armentano, NORML Senior Policy Analyst, at (202) 483-5500. Full text of the study, “Drug testing of adolescents in ambulatory medicine: Physicians practices and knowledge,” appears in the February issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.