Send to

Choose Destination
Clin Chim Acta. 2002 Jan;315(1-2):125-35.

Urine drug screening in the medical setting.

Author information

Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA.



The term drug screen is a misnomer since it implies screening for all drugs, which is not possible. Current practice is to limit the testing to the examination of serum for several drugs such as ethanol, acetaminophen, salicylate, and of urine for several specific drugs or classes of drugs. In the emergency setting the screen should be performed in less than one hour. Controversies continue to exist regarding the value of urine drug testing in the medical setting. The reasons for these include the drugs involved, the sample, the methods utilized to perform the tests, and the level of understanding of the physician using the data, all of which are closely related to the other.


Current automated methods provide rapid results demanded in emergency situations, but are often designed for, or adapted from, workplace testing and are not necessarily optimized for clinical applications. Furthermore, the use of these methods without consideration of the frequency in which the drugs are found in a given area is not cost-effective. The laboratory must understand the limitations of the assays used and provide this information to the physician. Additionally, the laboratory and the physicians using the data must cooperate to determine which drugs are appropriate and necessary to measure for their institution and clinical setting. In doing so it should be remembered that for many drugs, the sample, urine, contains the end product(s) of drug metabolism, not the parent drug. Furthermore, it is necessary to understand the pharmacokinetic parameters of the drug of interest when interpreting data. Finally, while testing for some drugs may not appear cost-effective, the prevention or reduction of morbidity and mortality may offset any laboratory costs.


While the literature is replete with studies concerning new methods and a few regarding physician understanding, there are none that we could find that thoroughly, objectively, and fully addressed the issues of utility and cost-effectiveness.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center