Doctors make big bucks operating labs to test urine of opioid patients

Teva drug testing
Some doctors are getting rich running drug-testing laboratories.

In the face of the country’s opioid epidemic, drug testing has become big business.

Many doctors are making major bucks by operating urine-testing labs and billing Medicare for millions, according to a report published by Bloomberg and investigated by Kaiser Health News.

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Some pain clinics have opened labs and are generating dollars with the testing of what the article calls “liquid gold.” Kaiser Health News, with assistance from researchers at the Mayo Clinic, found that spending on urine screens and related genetic tests quadrupled from 2011 to 2014 based on billing data from Medicare and private insurance, the article said. The spending has reached an estimated $8.5 billion a year.

Drug testing is a lucrative business for doctors who operate their own labs, the report said. The investigation, for instance, found that Medicare paid $1 million or more in 2014 and 2015 for drug-related tests billed at more than 50 pain management practices in the United States. Doctors order the tests to monitor patients on painkillers against the risk of addiction, often testing for the presence of both legal and illegal drugs in the urine.

RELATED: 11.8M people misused opioids in 2016: federal report

But those dollars have created a red flag that may signal overuse of drug testing and could lead to a federal investigation, according to one federal official.

The country’s largest drug-testing laboratory, Millennium Health, negotiated a $250 million settlement with the federal government for unnecessary drug tests after facing a number of whistleblower suits. Its parent company, Millennium Lab Holdings II, declared bankruptcy, Bloomberg reported.