Behavioral monitoring and urine toxicology testing in patients receiving long-term opioid therapy

Anesth Analg. 2003 Oct;97(4):1097-1102. doi: 10.1213/01.ANE.0000080159.83342.B5.


No study has examined the role of urine toxicology in addition to behavioral monitoring in patients receiving opioid therapy for chronic pain. All patients maintained on chronic opioid therapy by the two senior authors at two university pain management centers were monitored for 3 yr with urine toxicology testing and for behaviors suggestive of inappropriate medication use. We retrospectively extracted demographic information, aberrant drug-taking behaviors, and urine toxicology information from the medical record. For 122 patients maintained on chronic opioid therapy, 43% (n = 53) had a "problem" (either positive urine toxicology or one or more aberrant drug-taking behaviors). Of patients with no behavioral issues, 21% (n = 26) had a positive urine screen for either an illicit drug or a nonprescribed controlled medication. Of patients with a negative urine screen, 14% (n = 17) had one or more behavioral issues. Monitoring both urine toxicology and behavioral issues captured more patients with inappropriate drug-taking behavior than either alone. Requiring a report of behavioral issues and urine toxicology screens for patients receiving chronic opioids creates a more comprehensive monitoring system than either alone.

Implications: Monitoring both urine toxicology and aberrant behavior in chronic-pain patients treated with opioids identified more problem patients than by monitoring either alone. The authors recommend routine urine testing on all patients prescribed opioids for noncancer pain and as a required element in all opioid analgesic studies.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Analgesics, Opioid / urine*
  • Behavior / drug effects*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Long-Term Care
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / complications
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Substance Abuse Detection*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / urine


  • Analgesics, Opioid