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Most Doctors Mishandling Teen Drug Tests

Majority don't follow procedures that ensure accuracy, study finds

TUESDAY, Feb. 7, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Urine tests aimed at detecting teen drug abuse are more widely used than ever before, but a new study suggests most doctors don't have enough training to ensure test results are correct and unadulterated.

According to experts, a properly collected urine sample includes: making sure those being tested provide identification; having patients empty their pockets and use the bathroom without running water; checking the sample immediately for proper temperature; and placing blue dye in any standing water. Also, a staff member should directly observe the patient as they provide the sample, or at least be present inside the bathroom.

But when researchers at Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital in Boston surveyed of 360 primary-care doctors, they found that most reported failed to use these techniques when collecting urine samples from kids aged 12 to 18. Many were also unaware of the tests' limitations.

"This study shows that although most primary-care physicians order urine drug tests, most do not use recommended procedures for urine test collection, validation and confirmation and lack the knowledge needed to correctly interpret positive and negative results," the study authors wrote in the February issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

The study found that only 23 percent of doctors used an effective method of collecting urine samples and only 10 percent knew that nitrous oxide, ecstasy and oxycodone could not be detected in standard urine tests. Sixty-one percent of the doctors gave the incorrect answer or said "don't know" when asked if secondhand exposure to marijuana smoke would bring about a positive result on a urine drug test.

"Physicians and parents may be falsely reassured that their child is not using a particular drug when the child never underwent proper testing for it," the Boson team conclude. On the other hand, "misinterpretation of a false-positive finding can put adolescents at risk for false accusation of substance use and diminished trust from parents, school personnel and counselors."

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about urine drug screening.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives, news release, Feb. 6, 2006
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