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Analysis shows wide use of multiple medications in opioid patients

September 11, 2015
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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A research poster presentation that was unveiled this week suggests that a significant number of individuals receiving prescription opioids are also using drugs such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines, unbeknownst to their opioid prescriber.

The drug testing and medication monitoring company Ameritox presented results from an analysis of more than 970,000 urine samples at the PAINWeek conference for pain management professionals in Las Vegas. The study, “Value of Comprehensive Urine Drug Monitoring in Patients Prescribed Opioid Medications,” reported that 16.5% of urine samples from patients who were prescribed an opioid and were being monitored by their physician tested positive for non-prescribed antidepressants. Also, 13.7% of the samples tested positive for non-prescribed benzodiazepines.

The “non-prescribed” designation does not suggest that the patients did not receive a legitimate prescription for these medications, but simply that their opioid prescriber had not been made aware that these other drugs were being taken. “This is a very dangerous lack of information, which is why medication monitoring can strengthen prevention of misuse and abuse,” Ameritox chief medical officer Tom Smith, MD, said in a Sept. 11 news release.

The next three most common drugs or drug categories uncovered in Ameritox's analysis of test samples were nonprescribed opioids, gabapentin, and antipsychotic medications.

The poster presentation states in its conclusions, “Monitoring for a broader array of non-prescribed medications and illicit substances, rather than only for a single prescribed medication such as an opioid, may reveal signs of potential medication misuse or substance abuse,” adding, “These signs may allow for early clinical intervention to improve therapeutic outcomes in patients with chronic pain.”