Drug testing or drug screening is a procedure carried to analyze presence or absence of drugs and/or their metabolites in an individual’s system with specificity, sensitivity and accuracy. The biological samples often used are urine, blood, saliva, hair, breath or sweat.
Drug tests are mostly done for legal purposes, for instance test for driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, testing as part of legal probation, employment condition where drug use is either illegal or dangerous, and athletes who may use performance-enhancing drugs.
Circumstances that may require drug testing:
- Pre-employment drug testing, random testing, work-related drug testing to identify workplace drug abuse.
- College or professional athletic drug testing.
- Post-accident drug testing – occurrence of workplace or vehicular accident due to human error, resulting in property damage or casualties.
- Safety-related drug testing - if an employee's job could lead to safety issues if judgment or physical ability were impaired.
Drug testing is most often performed when applying for job, especially for positions that may involve bus drivers, trucker drivers, railways, hospitals, federal transportation, airline industries and pilots, and other workplaces where safety of the public is of utmost importance. However, workplace drug testing is widely used by many US Employers to lessen the impact from drug abuse, safety concerns and low productivity.
Different factors that depend in drug test to detect a specific drug:
- The drug itself (drug class, particular type, etc.)
- How much of the drug a person has ingested
- How frequently the person has used the drug
- Drug test type being used
- Other factors like person’s age, overall health, weight, metabolism, etc.
In addition, drug tests may also look for presence of the specific drugs with shorter detection windows. Drug metabolites can be found in the system longer than the actual chemical substance itself.
Maximum detection window for different drugs of abuse:
Blood or Saliva Samples
About 72-80 hours
About 2 days
As long as 30 days (variable depending on the amount and frequency of use)
About 90 days
About 90 days
Up to 10 days (heavy users)
A few hours (non-heavy users)
About 90 days
(Xanax, Ativan, Valium, etc.)
About one week (normal therapeutic use)
maybe six weeks or more (drug abuse)
About 90 days
Crystal meth (methamphetamine)
About 90 days
About 90 days
All of these detection times are variable. It is not assured that one will beat the drug test by waiting out the maximum length of time described above. In some cases, the detection period for a drug may be longer, and in other cases may be shorter.
Urine Drug Test
Urine is the most commonly used sample type for drug testing. Urinalysis will detect the presence of a drug in the system after the drug effects have worn off. The length of time varies depending on the drugs. Urine test is the only method approved for the federally mandated, safety-sensitive workforce.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey in collaboration with the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA), 57% of employers conduct drug tests on every single job candidate. The most commonly used method is urine drug test.
Urine drug testing is not only quick and affordable, but offers plenty of options with different drug testing panels. An employer can decide on the exact drug testing panel for the business.
Urine Drug Testing Facts One Should Know
1. Urine drug testing is the most frequently used method of drug testing.
Urine drug testing is the most frequently used drug test sample type because of its proven methodology and the wide range of drug panels. Urine drug testing is most flexible and customizable to detect recent drug use.
2. Urine drug testing can be applied in various testing situations.
Urine drug testing is authentic and flexible for most testing reasons, whether testing is done for pre-employment, random, follow-up, etc.
3. Urine testing method can detect a wide range of drugs.
Urine testing detects the following drugs: amphetamines, benzodiazepines, cocaine, barbiturates, marijuana, MDMA (ecstasy), opiates, oxycodone, methadone, phencyclidine (PCP) and propoxyphene, synthetic cannabinoids (K2/Spice) and synthetic stimulants (Bath Salts). The most commonly requested urine drug test is the 5-panel test that detects the presence of amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates, and PCP.
4. Urine testing detects recently used drugs.
Urine drug testing detects recent drug use in the last 24 to 72 hours. Drug detection in urine can vary according to the drug, the amount of drug ingested, and an individual’s biology.
5. A urine drug test can be completed at the collection site.
Urine drug testing sample requires a minimum of 30 mL of urine (45 mL according to US Department of Transportation) collected in the privacy of a restroom. A collected urine specimen is poured into a bottle that is sealed with tamper-evident tape. The specimen and completed Custody and Control Form (CCF) are sent to certified laboratory for testing.
6. Urine drug test is difficult to cheat
While urine test is the most commonly used drug testing method, it is not foolproof. Donors may try to beat a urine drug test by adulterating their sample, adding contaminants or even trying to substitute another person’s urine for their own during the collection. Labs do specimen validity testing to ensure the integrity of a urine specimen and filter out cheating attempts. Routine procedures like measuring pH, creatinine and specific gravity help to identify results not consistent with human urine.
7. Urine is the only approved sample type used for Federal drug testing.
Agencies categorized as “safety-sensitive” perform regulated urine drug tests because of the potential influence of their job on public safety. Safety-sensitive workplaces are classified under the Health and Human Services (HHS), Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) testing authority, are part of one of the agencies under the US Department of Transportation (DOT). The collection process of a regulated urine test is guided by the DOT’s requirements outlined in 49 CFR Part 40.
8. Urine drug test can return immediate results
With instant drug tests, negative urine drug test results are obtained the same day. It is easy to get instant urine drug testing through one of the US Drug Test Centers and they utilize 6-panel drug test and 10-panel drug test for substances including amphetamines, methamphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, and opiates.
Instant drug tests are a huge asset to employers since it provides immediate results if concerned about employees working under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Drug testing programs designed to filter out drug users/abusers and deter drug use in the workplace. Urine testing methodology also helps to mitigate potential risks by screening out job applicants and employees who use drugs.
Saliva/Mouth Swab Drug Test
A mouth swab or saliva drug test uses oral fluids or saliva to test for the presence of drugs and alcohol. Employers utilize this test since it is quick and easy to administer. This type of drug test generally looks for drug residues that were ingested orally in the last 24 to 48 hours (up to 2 days) after use. The donor should avoid intake of food or beverages for at least 10 minutes prior to sample collection for the test.
Mouth swab or saliva tests are more widely used testing method as an alternative to urine drug tests since it is easier to gather samples, is much less susceptible to substitution or adulteration.
Mouth swab or saliva test can detect:
- Marijuana (THC)
- Phencyclidine (PCP)
Mouth/saliva drug test is suitable for various testing reasons, including pre-employment testing, random and post-accident testing.
Saliva/Mouth Swab Drug Testing Facts
- Oral fluid samples are collected from an individual through the use of swab or test strips or by means of expectoration (spitting). The samples can be tested on site without any intrusion of privacy. Saliva drug testing kits are more expensive than urine drug test kits.
- Mouth swab or saliva drug testing also suits in scenarios where timeliness is the key factor. Saliva drug testing is an ideal testing method for employees and industries who do field work, where a bathroom is not always easily accessible to do urine drug testing methods.
- Detection time varies depending on the drugs from within a few minutes to three days (24 to 48 hours).
- Oral fluid testing method can detect drugs in the saliva roughly within 30-60 minutes after ingestion. Because of the short timeframe, this proves to be an excellent test for post-accident and reasonable suspicion testing situations.
- Oral fluid testing identifies recent usage of drugs or alcohol that may be missed by urine testing. The urine testing method depends on drug metabolites that are retained in the body's system and detects drugs for 24-72 hours.
- Enzyme-immunoassay antibodies (EIA) are used for initial screening for abused drugs in oral fluids. There is a potential for substances like over-the-counter medications to cause a false positive result. In order to eliminate such possibilities, all positive results are confirmed by LC/MS methods.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not consider oral fluid specimens to be hazardous. The oral fluid specimens are not subjected to the same handling and disposal methods like the other bodily fluids.
- There are commercially available saliva drug testing kits that can be used without the need for additional tools or lab analysis. However, in the case of a positive test, an employer may require the result to be examined in the laboratory for confirmation.
- There are studies revealing workplace saliva drug test samples showing comparable positive rates to urine drug testing.
- The only drawback of saliva drug test is its limited detection window. It can detect drugs that are more recently used. Saliva drug tests have been found to be more reliable in detecting Opiates and Methamphetamine, but less reliable in detecting Cannabinoids.
Blood Drug Testing
Blood drug test is used to determine the amounts of drug in an individual’s system, usually within minutes to hours. A law enforcement official or an employer can determine if a person is actively under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Blood testing is invasive and requires needle stick. Blood analysis often has a short detection window since lots of illicit drugs gets metabolized quickly and eliminate from the body.
Blood drug test can detect:
Blood Drug Testing Facts
- Blood test is one of the most popular drug testing methods and is considered to be the most accurate method among other drug tests. It detects the presence of parent drugs and alcohol.
- Blood drug tests are administered by certified professionals, who draw a small sample of blood, which is then secured and processed for testing. It significantly reduces the possibility of error or adulteration.
- The detection window for blood test depends on the type of drug and is fairly short because the body quickly metabolizes drugs in the bloodstream. For example, hallucinogenic drugs (LSD) can be detected within just 0-3 hours, while benzodiazepines up to 48 hours later.
- Blood testing method is not commonly used because of its cost and invasiveness.
- Blood drug testing is required in situations like people applying for insurance, potential employees while hiring, blood tests required as part of a court order, etc.
- One can easily pass the blood test because of its short detection window simply by refraining from the use of drugs and alcohol. Consuming healthy foods, drinking plenty of water and fresh juices, and exercising can help the body quickly detoxify the drugs if present.
Hair Drug Testing
Hair drug test detects the presence of drugs and their metabolites in the hair specimen collected from a donor.
Drugs detectable in hair:
Hair Drug Testing Facts
- Hair drug testing method allows detection of substances that have been frequently or infrequently used over a longer period of time (up to 90 days).
- About 100 gram sample of hair (100 to 120 strands) is cut close to the scalp by the collector. The collected sample is sent to a sophisticated laboratory where the hair samples are screened for any illicit substances. The results are available within 1 to 5 working days.
- The hair specimens are usually cleansed of any external contamination (powders, smoke, etc.) by washing them with special shampoos before screening. Then, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay methodology is utilized to detect the presence of any illicit parent drugs or their metabolites.
- If the samples test positive, a second screening of the samples are done by subjecting them to Gas Chromatography, Mass Spectrometry or Liquid Chromatography/Tandem Mass Spectrometry confirmation testing.
- The hair testing method is the hardest drug test to beat and reduces the risk of adulteration or substitution since the sample is collected in full view of the lab personnel.
- There are chemical adulterants commercially available like shampoos, dyes, bleaches, etc., but the effectiveness of these products is not established.
- It takes a couple of days (between 5-10 days) after the last use for the substance to be detectable in hair. There are more advanced hair drug tests that can detect prescription drug abuse.
- This is the least form of intrusive testing and more expensive than other drug testing methods, but provides very accurate results.
Finger Nail Drug Testing
Fingernail or toenail drug testing is a noninvasive and reliable way to screen drug use/abuse. It is an ideal method to find drugs that have been used or abused at any time over a period of 6 to 8 months.
The ingested drugs get metabolized within a person’s body system and they continue to travel through the bloodstream. As the nail grows, substances get incorporated into the keratin fibers from the blood vessels and get trapped. Fingernails and toenails grow at a relatively slow speed, which makes it possible to detect traces of drugs for months afterward.
Fingernail drug tests detect:
- EtG alcohol markers
Finger Nail Drug Testing Facts
- The fingernail drug testing is an ideal option for those wishing to screen for drug usage at any point in the past eight months or so.
- Fingernail drug tests are commonly used in situations where an individual can't give hair samples for religious reasons or if a person has very little or no hair to test.
- Nail drug testing procedure is quick and straightforward. After washing the donor’s hands and cleaning under their nails, a certified collector will take clippings using clippers of the fingernails or toenails. The sample is secured in a clearly labeled envelope and sent to the lab for analysis.
- Two types of nail testings are conducted:
- Immunoassay screening followed by a confirmation test
- Liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry.
- A fingernail specimen can provide a drug exposure history of approximately eight months whereas toenail specimen can provide up to 12 months.
- The collection method is less intrusive and has reduced risk of tampering since it is done under direct observation.
- Fingernail drug testing cannot establish the exact pattern of drug use which can be seen in hair testing.
5-Panel Drug Testing Facts
- The 5-panel drug test serves the purpose of most of the employer's requirements. This test detects the following drugs: Opiates, Cocaine, Amphetamines, Marijuana (THC) and Phencyclidine (PCP).
- Factors that determine the period the drugs remain in the system
- Type of drug(s) used
- Amount of drug(s) used
- Frequency of use
- Hydration levels
- Body mass
- Physical activity
- Drug tolerance
- Metabolic rate
- Medical conditions that impact drug elimination
- Presence of other drugs or alcohol in the body system
- The drug’s half life
- Workplace drug testing results are fairly quick and can be received within a few days. There are rapid test kits that provide results on the same day. Negative results are received within 24 hours. A non-negative screen will require further testing and can take a few days to a week.
- Biological samples like urine, blood, hair, breath, etc., are utilized for drug testing purposes.
6-Panel Drug Testing Facts
- The 6-Panel Drug Test screens for the presence of the following drugs: Barbiturates, Cocaine Metabolites, Amphetamines/Methamphetamines, Marijuana Metabolites, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), Opiates (including Hydrocodone, Hydromorphone, Codeine, and Morphine) and Phencyclidine (PCP).
- Some of these drugs cause fatigue, weakness and dizziness and this type of test is commonly utilized in workplaces where heavy machineries are operated.
7-Panel Drug Testing Facts
- Companies or individuals often administer this drug test if there are concerns regarding employees abusing prescription drugs. Industries requiring alertness in heavy machinery operations such as transportation and the DOT use the 7-panel drug test.
- Prescription drugs though legal may impair an individual’s ability to do their job and cause side effects like fatigue particularly if abused.
- Standard 7-Panel Drug test typically screens for the presence of opiates, marijuana, cocaine, PCP, amphetamines, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates.
- Barbiturates abuse can cause extreme drowsiness and confusion.
8-Panel Drug Testing Facts
- The 8-Panel Drug test looks for opiates, marijuana, PCP, barbiturates, cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamines and benzodiazepines.
- The 8-Panel Drug test is recommended for home health aides by mobile health agencies.
9-Panel Drug Testing Facts
- The 9-Panel Drug test looks for opiates, marijuana, PCP, barbiturates, cocaine, amphetamines, methadone, methamphetamines and benzodiazepines.
- Methadone is used as a pain reliever and if abused can cause extreme exhaustion and numbness.
10-Panel Drug Testing Facts
- The 10-Panel Drug Tests are often administered to employees in law enforcement, those in the federal or local government, and medical professionals. This drug screen may examine if a person is violating the terms of probation. The 10-panel drug test is mandatory for civil servants, particularly if their job entails dangerous work or the employee must ensure safety of others.
- Standard 10-panel test typically screens for the presence of amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, PCP, opiates, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, methadone, propoxyphene, & Quaaludes.
- Propoxyphene (Darvon) is a narcotic pain reliever. It is highly addictive and interacts dangerously with alcohol and other drugs. The side effects are slowed heartbeat, confusion, dizziness, seizures, etc. If abused, employee may lack ability to function safely at work.
11-Panel Drug Testing Facts
- The 11-Panel Drug Test detects opiates, oxycodone, amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, buprenorphine, cocaine, methamphetamines, methadone, PCP and THC.
- Tricyclic antidepressants can cause cognitive impairment, anxiety, and exhaustion.
12-Panel Drug Testing Facts
- The 12-panel drug test is often administered as an extension to the 10-panel drug test.
- The standard 12-panel test looks for cocaine, marijuana, PCP, amphetamines, opiates, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, methadone, propoxyphene, Quaaludes, Ecstasy/MDA, and Oxycodone/Percocet.
- This testing panel is often used in court cases such as child custody, divorce proceedings, hiring process and probation requirement.
Opiate Drug Testing Facts
- Opioid testing looks for the presence of opioids in urine, blood, or saliva. Opioids are used pain reliever, often prescribed to help treat serious injuries or illnesses.
- The opioids also induce increased feelings of pleasure and well-being. Once the opioid dose wears off, it is natural to want those feelings to return.
- Types of opioids:
- Oxycodone (OxyContin)
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
- Opioids are often abused leading to overdoses and even death. Drug dealers sometimes add fentanyl to heroin, and this combination of drugs is dangerous.
- Opiate drug screenings may be utilized in employment and legal or forensic purposes.
- Side effects of opiate abuse may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slowed or slurred speech
- Difficulty breathing
- Dilated or small pupils
- Blood pressure or heart rhythm changes
- A positive result on an opioid test may affect various aspects of a person’s life including job.
- In case of opioid abuse, treatments may include:
- Rehabilitation programs, inpatient and outpatient basis
- Psychological counseling
- Support groups
It is always safe to stay clean to come clean. There are no foolproof methods to evade ill effects of drugs or drug screening procedures. If drug testing kits are widely available, so the detox kits to assist in lowering the concentrations of metabolites or even completely get rid of them.