Urine-Based Drug Tests Too Flawed for Widespread Use: Study

Error rate is just too high, researchers say

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MONDAY, April 2, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Urine-based drug tests have a lot of room for error and may not be useful in schools and other venues, a U.S. study says.

The finding is important in light of current efforts by policymakers and drug test makers to implement random school- and home-based drug testing for teens, said researchers from Children's Hospital Boston's Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research.

Reporting in the April issue of Pediatrics, the team reviewed 710 random urine drug tests from 110 patients, ages 13 to 21.

They found that 12 percent of the tests had results that were subject to misinterpretation.

Of the 480 negative tests, eight percent were from urine samples that were too diluted to reliably interpret. Of the 217 positive test results, 21 percent were attributable to legitimate prescription or over-the-counter medications, the study said.

Given the high potential for misinterpretation, there is no justification for widespread use of random drug testing for adolescents, the researchers concluded.

"Drug testing is more technically complex than most clinicians and policymakers appreciate," study author Dr. Sharon Levy said in a prepared statement.

"Many adolescents are adept at defeating urine tests, and extensive, rigorous testing can be prohibitively expensive. The resources put into testing would be better spent on prevention and treatment programs. Drug testing should be reserved for patients with a clinical indication for this procedure, and when drug testing is indicated, the best available procedures should be used," Levy said.

More information

The Nemours Foundation offers advice for parents on talking to children about drugs.

SOURCE: Children's Hospital Boston, news release, April 2, 2007

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