The Medical Side of Urine Drug Testing

When we think of urine drug testing, most of us picture the screening tests that people take to prove that they are suitable for employment. In those instances, tests are used to identify and weed out drug users, and they are generally a source of stress for anyone who takes them. Even if someone doesn’t use drugs, there’s the fear of a false-positive.

But there is another type of urine drug testing that is actually a very valuable diagnostic and treatment tool: it’s called medication monitoring.

Medication Monitoring

Medication monitoring is used in clinical settings, such as clinical trials, or in hospitals and nursing homes. They are used to gauge different aspects of the drug including:

  • If the medication is working; and,
  • If the medication has any adverse effects.

In medical monitoring urine drug testing is used to gauge:

  • Whether or not the patient is using the drug properly; and,
  • Whether or not the patient is using other drugs

Detecting Proper Use of the Drug

In cases where the patient is responsible for administering his own medication, it’s always possible that a patient could take the medication incorrectly, such as taking the wrong dose, not taking the drug at the proper intervals, or neglecting to take the drug at all.

Not complying with the drug protocol could cause dangerous side effects, and it could also reduce the effectiveness of the drug – both situations that could have serious ramifications for the patient. In a clinical trial, it can also compromise the research by skewing the results.

When used as a medical monitoring tool, urine drug testing can gauge the levels or presence of the drug in the patient’s urine. Unusually high levels could indicate that the patient is taking more of the drug than recommended, or is taking it too often; unusually low levels could indicate that the patient is not taking enough, or is not taking it as often.

Detecting the Presence of Other Drugs

Some medications don’t play well with other drugs; and combining these drugs can have serious consequences.

  • One drug could render the other ineffective;
  • One drug could trigger the side effects in the other;
  • Both drugs could have individual side effects that are devastating when combined;
  • The combination of the two drugs could create a whole new set of side effects.

From a treatment standpoint, these drug interactions could interfere with the patient’s ability to manage his disease, and could even be life-threatening. From a research standpoint, the presence of other drugs could compromise the research by skewing the results; however, it can also help clinicians determine how the drug should be taken.

A urine drug test will detect the presence of other drugs — prescription, over-the-counter, and illicit – to help doctors and clinicians determine how the primary drug is reacting with them.

In the case of a medical setting, such as a hospital, nursing home, or doctor’s office, it can also help doctors determine if the patient has an issue with addiction and intervene with the proper therapy, before the addiction causes more damage.

For example, alcohol can stay in the urine for up to 24 hours after the last drink. If a urine drug test detects the presence of alcohol, it could indicate that the patient ingested alcohol very recently, which could indicate possible alcoholism. If the patient is on medication that reacts badly to alcohol, or has a condition that could be exacerbated by alcohol, the doctor could recommend a treatment program.


As you can see, urine drug testing is used for more than just screening job applicants and prison parolees. It’s also a valuable diagnostic tool that clinicians use to ensure the safety and effectiveness of new drugs, and that doctors use to ensure effective patient care.

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About Ferland Manuel

Dr, Manuel Ferland is health care specialist,