Journal Articles

Performance of the Tobacco, Alcohol, Prescription Medication, and Other Substance Use (TAPS) Tool for Substance Use Screening in Primary Care Patients

September 22, 2016

Jennifer McNeely, MD, MS; Li-Tzy Wu, ScD, RN, MA; Geetha Subramaniam, MD; Gaurav Sharma, PhD; Lauretta A. Cathers, PhD; Dace Svikis, PhD; Luke Sleiter, MPH; Linnea Russell, BA; Courtney Nordeck, BA; Anjalee Sharma, MSW; Kevin E. O’Grady, PhD; Leah B. Bouk, CCRC; Carol Cushing, BBA, RN; Jacqueline King, MS; Aimee Wahle, MS; and Robert P. Schwartz, MD (2016). Performance of the Tobacco, Alcohol, Prescription Medication, and Other Substance Use (TAPS) Tool for Substance Use Screening in Primary Care Patients. Annals of Internal Medicine.

Author Affiliations

New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York; Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina; National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland; The EMMES Corporation, Rockville, Maryland; Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia; Friends Research Institute, Baltimore, Maryland; University of Maryland, College Park, College Park, Maryland; and Duke Translational Research Institute, Kannapolis, North Carolina


Background: Substance use, a leading cause of illness and death, is underidentified in medical practice.

Objective: The Tobacco, Alcohol, Prescription medication, and other Substance use (TAPS) tool was developed to address the need for a brief screening and assessment instrument that includes all commonly used substances and fits into clinical workflows. The goal of this study was to assess the performance of the TAPS tool in primary care patients.

Design: Multisite study, conducted within the National Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Trials Network, comparing the TAPS tool with a reference standard measure. ( NCT02110693)

Setting: 5 adult primary care clinics.

Participants: 2000 adult patients consecutively recruited from clinic waiting areas.

Measurements: Interviewer- and self-administered versions of the TAPS tool were compared with a reference standard, the modified World Mental Health Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI), which measures problem use and substance use disorder (SUD).

Results: Interviewer- and self-administered versions of the TAPS tool had similar diagnostic characteristics. For identifying problem use (at a cutoff of 1+), the TAPS tool had a sensitivity of 0.93 (95% CI, 0.90 to 0.95) and specificity of 0.87 (CI, 0.85 to 0.89) for tobacco and a sensitivity of 0.74 (CI, 0.70 to 0.78) and specificity of 0.79 (CI, 0.76 to 0.81) for alcohol. For problem use of illicit and prescription drugs, sensitivity ranged from 0.82 (CI, 0.76 to 0.87) for marijuana to 0.63 (CI, 0.47 to 0.78) for sedatives; specificity was 0.93 or higher. For identifying any SUD (at a cutoff of 2+), sensitivity was lower.

Limitations: The low prevalence of some drug classes led to poor precision in some estimates. Research assistants were not blinded to participants’ TAPS tool responses when they administered the CIDI.

Conclusion: In a diverse population of adult primary care patients, the TAPS tool detected clinically relevant problem substance use. Although it also may detect tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use disorders, further refinement is needed before it can be recommended broadly for SUD screening.

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