Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 22, Issue 7, pp 1883–1888

Screening for substance abuse risk in cancer patients using the Opioid Risk Tool and urine drug screen

  • Joshua S. Barclay
  • Justine E. Owens
  • Leslie J. Blackhall
Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s00520-014-2167-6

Cite this article as:
Barclay, J.S., Owens, J.E. & Blackhall, L.J. Support Care Cancer (2014) 22: 1883. doi:10.1007/s00520-014-2167-6



The use of opioids for management of cancer-related pain has increased significantly and has been associated with a substantial rise in rates of substance abuse and diversion. There is a paucity of data not only on the prevalence of substance abuse in cancer patients, but also for issues of drug use and diversion in family caregivers. This study aimed to evaluate the frequency of risk factors for substance abuse and diversion, and abnormal urine drug screens in cancer patients receiving palliative care.


A retrospective chart review was performed for patients with cancer who were seen in the University of Virginia Palliative Care Clinic during the month of September 2012. We evaluated Opioid Risk Tool variables and total scores, insurance status, and urine drug screen results.


Of the 114 cancer patients seen in September 2012, the mean Opioid Risk Tool score was 3.79, with 43 % of patients defined as medium to high risk. Age (16–45 years old, 23 %) and a personal history of alcohol (23 %) or illicit drugs (21 %) were the most common risk factors identified. We obtained a urine drug screen on 40 % of patients, noting abnormal findings in 45.65 %.


Opioids are an effective treatment for cancer-related pain, yet substantial risk for substance abuse exits in the cancer population. Screening tools, such as the Opioid Risk Tool, should be used as part of a complete patient assessment to balance risk with appropriate relief of suffering.


Substance abuse Opioids Urine drug screen Palliative care 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joshua S. Barclay
    • 1
  • Justine E. Owens
    • 1
  • Leslie J. Blackhall
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of General Internal Medicine, Geriatrics, and Palliative Care, Department of MedicineUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA

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