Drug Misuse in America 2020
Rise in Fentanyl and Heroin Positivity, Drop in Drug Testing Are Among Pandemic's Serious Effects

The COVID-19 pandemic has created additional healthcare challenges. Drug testing, as well as other preventive and routine care services have, in many cases, been put on hold. A new study1 indicates that many healthcare professionals have been “flying blind” during the COVID-19 pandemic, even while their most vulnerable patients have increased their use of dangerous and illicit substances.

The Quest Diagnostics Health Trends™ study, published in the journal Population Health Management, compared testing rates and results from across the country before and after the onset of the pandemic. Key observations included:

  • A dramatic drop in drug testing. Testing for prescription and illicit drugs declined rapidly during the pandemic, with weekly test volumes falling by approximately 70% from the baseline period to the trough (the week beginning March 29) before rising in subsequent weeks
  • A sharp rise in fentanyl and heroin positivity. Samples positive for non-prescribed fentanyl rose by 35% during the pandemic, and samples positive for heroin increased 44%
  • A sharp rise in dangerous drug combinations. Positivity for non-prescribed fentanyl increased 89% among patients positive for amphetamines; 48% among those positive for benzodiazepines; 34% among those positive for cocaine; and 39% among those positive for opiates (P < 0.01 for all listed drugs)

These findings show that prescription drug monitoring declined during the COVID-19 pandemic, while positivity for non-prescribed drugs and dangerous drugs in combination increased. “What we have here is an epidemic within a pandemic,” said Dr Jeffrey Gudin, senior medical adviser for drug monitoring at Quest Diagnostics and a study co-author. The COVID-19 pandemic has left many of the most vulnerable patients more isolated and more at risk for dangerous behaviors.

To read the full study, click here.

Quest’s clinical drug monitoring program can provide you the information you need to help keep your patients safe during this challenging time.

Learn More

Quest Diagnostics has many resources available to educate and guide you. Please visit QuestDrugMonitoring.com for information on our Drug Monitoring Test Directory and offerings, as well as educational resources and insights from our team of toxicology experts.

1. Niles JK, Gudin J, Radcliff J, et al. The opioid epidemic within the COVID-19 pandemic: drug testing in 2020. Popul Health Manag. 2020. doi:10.1089/pop.2020.0230