By Pat Anson, Editor
A North Carolina woman who suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy and several other chronic pain issues wrote to us recently about a serious problem she had with a urine drug test (UDT) performed in her doctor’s office.
Her urine tested positive for oxycodone and hydrocodone, two opioid pain medications she did not have prescriptions for. So the doctor dropped Paulette Waters from his practice, informing her by registered letter that she would no longer be his patient after 12 years without any other issues.
“This is where my horror story starts and has as of yet to end. The letter stated that I had broken the pain agreement and my doctor would not be seeing me anymore. The letter being generic and not including any details or UDT results,” wrote Paulette, who asked that Pain News Network not use her real name because she’s afraid of being blackballed by more doctors.
We’ve written before about these “point of care” (POC) urine tests. The immunoassay tests are often used by doctors to screen pain patients for the misuse or abuse of drugs – but they’re wrong about half the time. One study, for example, found that POC tests give false positives 41% of the time for oxycodone. Sometimes even a simple over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen can trigger a false positive for marijuana.
A more complex laboratory test that uses chromatography-mass-spectrometry to identify individual molecules is far more accurate than POC tests, but they cost thousands of dollars -- something many insurers and patients are unwilling or unable to pay for.
Instead of conducting additional tests or giving a patient the benefit of the doubt, some doctors take the easy way out by dropping patients like Paulette.
“The problem now has become that since this test, no pain clinic will see me, let alone let me tell my side of the story,” says Paulette, who has been struggling for the past year to clear her name and get the pain medication she needs.
“Knowing I have a legitimate chronic disease there is no cure for, why would I jeopardize myself by doing something that would put me in a position to not have the medicine I needed to help me live somewhat of a normal life?” she asks.
Paulette has called different lawyers and even the ACLU, but no one has taken her case. She’s also written to the state medical board, believing her doctor didn’t follow proper protocol before dismissing her.
“As of now a patient who legitimately suffers from chronic pain has no voice, recourse or method to keep them from being falsely accused of failing a urinary drug test,” she adds.
Patient Bill of Rights
Paulette thinks it’s long past time for a “Patient Bill of Rights” – one that spells out exactly what’s expected of doctors andpatients before, during and after a drug test, including:
- Make patients aware that UDT’s can have false positives and false negatives.
- Inform patients what kind of test they are taking.
- Make sure the patient and doctor have a list of all prescription drugs the patient is taking, including over-the-counter meds, vitamins and supplements that could affect the test results.
- Make patients aware what consequences they could face if a test result is abnormal.
- Make sure the patient has a signed copy of their pain contract or drug agreement.
- Allow the patient to observe the urine sample being sealed in front of them.
- Make patients aware that insurance companies do not always pay for drug tests.
- Make doctors follow guidelines if there is an abnormal test result. Have them tell the patient in person, instead of a generic letter dismissing them.
- Allow at least one more reliable drug screen to be sure false positives or negatives did not occur.
Paulette says pain patients have paid a price for too long in the “War on Drugs” – becoming casualties of misguided policies they have no voice in.
“All of these battles are between the DEA, insurance companies and doctors,” she says. “The one person that is left out is the patient who is the one suffering. that only has the option of seeing a doctor for their chronic pain. This leads them to such things as buying street drugs, depression, committing suicide, and other health problems because their legitimate chronic pain is not under control.”