Assessment of the use of oral fluid as a matrix for drug monitoring in patients undergoing treatment for opioid addiction


  • Frank Kunkel, MD
  • Elizabeth Fey, MS
  • Damon Borg, PhD
  • Richard Stripp, PhD
  • Christine Getto, BS



oral fluid drug testing, opioid addiction, suboxone, buprenorphine, urine drug testing


Drug testing is an important clinical tool that is available to physicians who are assessing the effectiveness of drug treatment as well as patient compliance to the administered program. While urine has traditionally been the matrix of choice for drug monitoring, oral fluid, a filtrate of the blood, has shown great promise as an alternative matrix for such applications. Oral fluid collection can be accomplished without the need for highly trained medical staff through the use of a simple, noninvasive oral fluid collection device, which obtains an adequate sample in only a few minutes. There has been a significant amount of research performed on the use of oral fluid for forensic toxicology application; however, more studies assessing the use of oral fluid drug testing are required to validate its ability to achieve clinical drug monitoring goals. Testing for various drugs in oral fluid may yield a different result when compared to the same drugs in urine, requiring an assessment of the utility of oral fluid for such practices. The purpose of this study was to examine the application of oral fluid drug testing in patients undergoing buprenorphine treatment for opioid dependence. A retrospective analysis of drug testing results obtained from 6,928 patients (4,560 unobserved urine collections and 2,368 observed oral fluid collections) monitored for heroin metabolite, amphetamine, benzodiazepines, buprenorphine, tetrahydrocannabinol, cocaine, codeine, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, methadone, morphine, oxycodone, and oxymorphone was completed. Results of this statistical exercise indicated that patients undergoing observed oral fluid collection tested positive more frequently than those unobserved urine collections for several illicit drugs and prescription medications targeted. Oral fluid was shown to detect illicit drug use as well as noncompliance in this patient population under the studied conditions more often than the urine specimens.

Author Biographies

Frank Kunkel, MD

Accessible Recovery Services, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Elizabeth Fey, MS

Sterling Healthcare, Huntington, New York.

Damon Borg, PhD

Sterling Healthcare, Huntington, New York.

Richard Stripp, PhD

Sterling Healthcare, Huntington, New York.

Christine Getto, BS

Executive Assistant, Accessible Recovery Services, Inc., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


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How to Cite

Kunkel, MD, F., E. Fey, MS, D. Borg, PhD, R. Stripp, PhD, and C. Getto, BS. “Assessment of the Use of Oral Fluid As a Matrix for Drug Monitoring in Patients Undergoing Treatment for Opioid Addiction”. Journal of Opioid Management, vol. 11, no. 5, Sept. 2015, pp. 434-42, doi:10.5055/jom.2015.0293.