U.S. Task Force Recommends Doctors Ask Adults About Illicit Drug Use

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent panel of medical experts, released a draft recommendation that advised doctors to ask all patients 18 or older about illicit drug use, including opioids. The newly proposed guidance replaces the 2008 recommendation, in which the agency found insufficient evidence to support screening the adult population.

The potential change in policy comes at a time when 7.5 million people aged 12 and older in the U.S. have been diagnosed with drug dependence or abuse of illicit substances, according to the USPSTF. This type of misuse led to 70,000 overdoses, the agency added.

USPSTF Co-Vice Chair Karina Davidson, MD, emphasized that this is not a recommendation to run drug tests but should encourage doctors to verbally ask patients about drug use or use a questionnaire.

“This is a screening recommendation,” Dr. Davidson, who also is senior vice president for research at Northwell Health, told The Wall Street Journal. “It’s just asking a couple of questions to find out if someone not already diagnosed has a problem.”

USPSTF panel members assigned the recommendation a “B” rating, meaning they are moderately confident that these screening questions will provide a benefit to patients by guiding them towards treatment. When recommendations with either an A or B rating are finalized, they are generally covered by most private insurance plans.

The draft recommendation applies to pregnant and postpartum women, but not to adults who have been previously diagnosed with a drug use disorder.

The panel also did not provide any recommendations on screening adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17, citing a lack of evidence concerning the potential benefits or harms. Regardless, USPSTF members voiced concern about teen drug use and have requested more research on the benefits of screening them.

The draft recommendation is open for public comment until September 9, after which point the USPSTF will finalize its statement, according to Dr. Davidson.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, August 13, 2019.