Interpretation of Oral Fluid Tests for Drugs of Abuse

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Oral fluid testing for drugs of abuse offers significant advantages over urine as a test matrix. Collection can be performed under direct observation with reduced risk of adulteration and substitution. Drugs generally appear in oral fluid by passive diffusion from blood, but also may be deposited in the oral cavity during oral, smoked, and intranasal administration. Drug metabolites also can be detected in oral fluid. Unlike urine testing, there may be a close correspondence between drug and metabolite concentrations in oral fluid and in blood. Interpretation of oral fluid results for drugs of abuse should be an iterative process whereby one considers the test results in the context of program requirements and a broad scientific knowledge of the many factors involved in determining test outcome. This review delineates many of the chemical and metabolic processes involved in the disposition of drugs and metabolites in oral fluid that are important to the appropriate interpretation of oral fluid tests. Chemical, metabolic, kinetic, and analytic parameters are summarized for selected drugs of abuse, and general guidelines are offered for understanding the significance of oral fluid tests.

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