Widespread Drug Screening Recommended By Expert Panel

A panel of public health experts wants doctors to start asking every adult patient whether they have engaged in any illicit drug use. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a group of experts who advise the federal government on disease prevention, has posted a draft recommendation statement on its website regarding the matter, along with a review of the research on which the recommendation is based. After a public commenting period, which lasts until Sept. 9, the advice may be modified and finalized.

The rates of addiction and overdoses have skyrocketed over the past decade. A nationwide survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2017 found that roughly 11.5 percent of American adults, totaling about 30.5 million people, admitted that they had used illicit drugs in the past month. Back in 2008, about 36,450 Americans died of drug overdoses. In 2017, the most recent year for which definitive statistics are available, drug overdoses were responsible for 70,237 deaths, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

American doctors have long been advised to ask their adult patients about their drinking and smoking habits. If the new recommendation is adopted, drug abuse would join the list. The panel did not extend its recommendation to adolescent children ages 12 to 17. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends screening all adolescents for illicit substance use.

Multiple research studies have shown that treatments for addiction can be the most effective way to help patients quit or cut back. Unfortunately, those treatments, which include behavioral interventions and pharmacological therapies, are underused and rarely offered by primary care physicians. The panel recommends that if drug abuse is detected with a patient, their doctor should be able to offer an effective treatment method or refer the patient to someone who can.