Mis-using Pain Medications?

Medication therapy enables doctors to manage prescriptions

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) People suffering from chronic pain are often prescribed powerful painkillers. But these drugs aren't always used for their intended purposes.

Prescription painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet are a highly-abused category of drugs. Doctors often use drug screening to make sure that patients who have been prescribed these medications are using them as instructed.

dailyRx spoke with a doctor who helped develop an efficient way to communicate to physicians whether their patients are complying with their treatment, or if they're abusing their prescriptions.

"Check with your doctor or pharmacist about when to take your meds."

Dr. Randy Barnett, is a board-certified medical review officer for University Services, a Philadelphia, PA toxicology company that processes the results of urine drug tests. You might be familiar with these tests as drug tests for employment, but they're also used to screen for the components of painkillers in patients who have been instructed to take them.

Why? Because prescription drug abuse is a growing problem, and the number of overdoses from these powerful opiates is increasing. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control warned that deaths from painkiller overdoses is overcoming deaths from cocaine and heroin overdoses.

A bottle of OxyContin has a high street value, and a patient with a prescription might be tempted to sell it rather than use it to treat their pain. “You've got make sure that what you're prescribing is not being diverted to other purposes,” said Dr. Barnett.

When Dr. Barnett looks at the results of a drug test, he's deciding whether the results are consistent or inconsistent with a person's prescribed medications – meaning, are individuals taking the drugs in the doses prescribed, or not. Drug tests identify the presence of drugs by noting their components that have beenbroken down in the body and found in urine.

“If someone's listed for Percocet, and the components are positively identified, they are labeled consistent,” explained Dr. Barnett. “If not, they're marked inconsistent.”

Dr. Barnett does this with the help of an electronic system that he helped develop. Most drug tests must be filled out by hand, with clear instructions to the physician. This can be time consuming. With an electronic system, each test is processed in 24 hours, and simply marked “consistent” or “inconsistent.”

Dr. Barnett notes that this is a huge benefit for the physician. “With a rapid turnaround time, if a physician has a patient he's prescribing OxyContin for, and the test is inconsistent, he'll be able to shut it down quickly.”

Reliable and quick drug screening has its benefits for patients as well. If a patient is found to have other compounds in their urine for unprescribed drugs, that patient can get help for their addiction problems.

“It really is a great tool for physicians to make sure their medicine is being used and not going to the wrong place,” said Dr. Barnett. In other words, it's a way to make sure that chronic pain is being treated, and that the treatment isn't abused.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 11, 2011
Last Updated:
November 15, 2011