At the beginning of the pandemic, patients nationwide canceled doctor visits for a range of medical issues as public health authorities recommended delaying non-urgent, in-person care. During this time, clinical drug testing by Quest Diagnostics plummeted by 70%, while contributors to substance use disorders like job loss, economic hardship, and mental health issues soared.

Now, 2 years later, we are seeing the effects of the triple threat of COVID-19, worsened mental health, and increased drug misuse. Drug overdoses took the lives of an estimated 100,000 individuals between April 2020 and 2021, an unprecedented annual high.

How did this happen—and is further worsening of the overdose crisis preventable? Yes, but only if physicians can optimize the right tools needed to address the issue, one of which is clinical drug testing.

A Health Trends report from Quest Diagnostics, based on a survey of 500 physicians, found that two-thirds of physicians surveyed (67%) shared a worry that signs of drug misuse and substance use disorders among one or more of their patients were missed during the pandemic, a troubling statistic when combined with the 94% who reported seeing more patients experiencing stress, anxiety, or other mental health issues—which have been shown to raise the risk for drug misuse and use disorders— because of COVID-19.

And while 88% of physicians reported feeling confident that they can identify patients at risk for drug misuse, nearly one-half of patients tested showed signs of misuse, among whom 50% showed signs of drug combining. As most physicians (85%) believe testing provides confidence that they are prescribing safely, clinical drug testing can link these dynamics, providing insights to uncover problematic drug use that the provider may miss before the worst outcomes can occur.

In Quest’s November report, physicians expressed concerns about telehealth while worrying that they have missed signs of drug misuse during the pandemic.