Drug Testing FAQs

Drug Testing Facts

Drug Testing is done to check if someone is using a particular drug in question. It is done mainly by testing the biological urine, blood or any other samples of the biological material (hairs, saliva, stool, sweat, etc) collected from the subject.

When you hear about drug testing, the first question that comes in mind is why there is a need to do drug testing. Let us understand the importance of this to be able to appreciate the article better.

The drug testing is required in the following circumstances:

  • To check for on the job drug abuse in case of work-related drug testing, especially as part of the post-accident investigation if the employer has a suspicion that the employees have caused an accident due to use of some prohibited materials, alcohol, etc. Sometimes the companies also conduct random drug testing to ensure discipline and reducing the chances of an accident due to working under the influence of prohibited drugs that can cause severe loss of goodwill in the market.
  • Pre-employment check on a candidate before finalizing employment in case the job has some safety-related or physical ability related requirements. It is mandatory in many countries for getting jobs related to airlines industry, government transportation, railways, hospitals or any other role where public safety is required. Many companies are also using these tests as drug abuse can result in low productivity or HR issues.
  • Pre-college admission testing on a student.
  • Professional athletic drug testing. It covers the use of illegal recreational and performance improving substances like anabolic steroids, erythropoietin, diuretics, alcohol or any other drugs in the prohibited list of World Anti-Doping Code.

Though the situation will be quite similar in many countries but in US alone alcohol and drug abuse costs about whopping $0.74 trillion loss to the economy every year. They also increase possibilities of crime, loss of productivity and increase of health care cost.

The worrying part is that these costs are increasing at the rate of 4% per annum and drug testing is one valuable tool to minimize the chances of adverse effects of this growing trend.

Drug Test Chart and Drug Detection Times*

Drug Class Street Name Prescription Brand Name Examples Detection Time in Urine
Amphetamine Stimulant speed Dexedrine, Benzedrine Up to 2 days
Barbiturates depressants / sedatives / hypnotics downers, barbs, reds Amytal, Fiorinal, Nembutal, Donna short-acting:  2 days
long-acting: 1-3 weeks
(based on half-life)
Benzodiazepines depressants / sedatives / hypnotics bennies Valium, Ativan, Xanax, Serax therapeutic dose: 3 days
chronic use: 4-6 weeks or longer
Cocaine (benzoyl ecgonine metabolite) Stimulant coke, crack, rock cocaine N/A Cocaine urine test: Up to 4 days
Codeine Analgesic / Opiate N/A N/A 2 days
Ethyl alcohol, ethanol depressants / sedatives / hypnotics alcohol, liquor, beer, wine booze N/A urine: 2 to 12 hours
serum/plasma: 1 to 12 hours
Heroin Analgesic / Opiate smack, tar, chasing the tiger N/A 2 days
Marijuana, Cannabinoids Hallucinogen pot, dope, weed, hash, hemp Marinol, Cesamet Single use: 2 to 7 days
Prolonged, chronic use: 1 to 2 months or longer
Methadone Analgesic / Opiate fizzies Dolophine 3 days
Methamphetamine Stimulant speed, ice, crystal, crank Desoxyn, Methedrine Up to 2 days
Methaqualone depressants / sedatives / hypnotics ludes, disco bisquits, 714, lemmons Quaalude (off U.S. market) Up to 14 days
MDMA (methylenedioxy-methamphetamine) Stimulant ecstacy, XTC, ADAM, lover’s speed N/A Up to 2 days
Morphine Analgesic / Opiate N/A Duramorph, Roxanol 2 days
Phencyclidine Hallucinogen PCP, angel dust N/A 8-14 days, but up to 30 days in chronic users
Propoxyphene Analgesic / Opiate N/A Darvocet, Darvon (all forms of propoxyphene withdrawn from US market in November 2010) 6 hours to 2 days

For drug testing which are the laboratory tests used?

A critical factor for drug testing is that it should be done at a certified laboratory of repute. It is normally done in 2 steps. These are Initial or the Immunoassay stage and Confirmatory or GC-MS test (Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry).

By using both methods, the possibility of false results can be minimised, and a high level of sensitivity and specificity can be achieved.

The immunoassay is the first stage and acts as a screening method. No further tests are conducted if the result at this stage is declared negative. The second stage GC-MS test is done on the sample if the results of the first stage are positive so that the actual substances and the quantity of drug abuse can be specified. Only after doing both the stage tests, the positive results are declared.

The drug testing is done by checking different samples as per the type of the drug use to be established and the purpose for doing the test. Some most commonly used methods are as follows:

The Urine Testing

The Urine sample testing is the widely used method adopted for drug abuse test by employers. It can show the presence of the drug in the system even after its effect has worn off. Urinalysis is usually used for checking for drugs like cocaine, opiates like oxycodone or heroin, nicotine, methamphetamines, marijuana, and alcohol, etc.

The process of the two-stage test is used in case of urine sample testing also. The first stage of immunoassay though gives reasonably accurate and fast results, but it does not pick all substances and can sometimes give false positives. So, to avoid such instances, the second stage GC-MS test is done if the results of the first stage come positive. This stage takes more time and is relatively costly but give quite accurate results and removes the chances of the erroneous outcome.

The correct method of Urine Sample Test

The different stages of doing the urine sample test are as follows: 

  • The urine sample to be collected in the well-sterilized sample cup. The target person is made to leave his belongings as purse/ briefcase etc. before going for the test. Depending on the severity of the purpose, sometimes the sample collection is witnessed by the nurse of the same sex, to ensure the integrity of the final results.
  • The area around the genitals to be adequately cleaned.
  • Fill around 45-50 ml of the urine sample in the cup.
  • After that cover the cup with lid and give it to the technician.
  • The temperature of the urine is checked to be within the required range, and then the sample is sealed and packaged for testing in your presence.

The method of Saliva drug testing

Saliva testing is called the swab test. Though not suitable for long-term drug use testing, it is a good indicator of the recent drug use (usually the cases where the drug is consumed in the last three days). It is a quick test, where the sample collection is easy, and it is not much susceptible to sample adulteration.

This test is usually used for testing the use of marijuana, amphetamines, methamphetamines, cocaine, and alcohol.

The method of Blood drug testing

The blood drug testing is used to establish the quantity of drugs in the subject’s body at the time of taking the sample. It is usually used for checking the presence of cocaine, methamphetamines, nicotine, amphetamines, marijuana, opiates and alcohol.

Though the method is invasive, it is a good indicator as the sample cannot be easily adulterated by the subject.

The method of Hair drug testing

The hair drug testing method is used to establish drug abuse after long-term use, usually over 90 days period. It is employed for detecting the use of marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, opiates, phencyclidine, and alcohol.

What happens during workplace drug testing?

In the case of pre-employment drug testing, the applicants are usually directed to a particular testing laboratory. It often is part of the screening process, and the applicant is required to present himself for the test within a specified period generally within 1 day of informing about the test so that there is no time to remove the traces of the drug from the system.

Once the applicant reached the test laboratory, he is asked to give the required blood, saliva, urine, hair sample as per the discretion of the lab personnel.

One major challenge during such work-related test us to follow strict chain-of-custody methods to avoid adulteration of samples. As per laws, the lab has to maintain proper documentation all through the process of testing. Specific testing also needs to have a direct visual observation in the course of testing to preserve the transparency and validity of the process.

In case the employers want to use the 5-panel drug test, it will include testing for marijuana, cocaine, PCP, opiates, and amphetamines. With 10-panel drug test, the drugs that are also tested besides the ones mentioned above are oxycodone, methadone, benzodiazepines, barbiturates and Ecstasy drug. The alcohol drug testing is also frequently done, but the actual test that needs to be done is as per the specific requirements of the employer, the government regulations or as per the mandated rules of the mobile Health and US Healthworks.

What are the companies that have reputed name in the field of drug testing?

  • The Quest Diagnostics Incorporated.
  • The Pharmatech Incorporated.
  • The Lexana
  • The national toxicology Labs Incorporated.
  • The Lab Corp of America Holdings.

For other companies that are authorized to do such drug tests can be found on the SAMHSA.gov website.

What is the duration for which the drugs stay in your system?

Many variables affect the duration up to which a particular drug stays in the system and can be detected in the biological samples. These are the half-life of the drug, the state of subject’s level of hydration, the frequency of drug abuse, the way the drug is taken and the cut off quantity that is used by the lab to establish the presence of the drug.

There are laid down guidelines for authentic detection of the drugs. Like many drugs can stay in the body for 2 to 4 days, but the regular use of drugs as marijuana can be detected even after 3 to 4 weeks and even longer. In hair samples, the drugs can be detected even up to 6 months.

For how long alcohol stays in urine?

The presence of alcohol can be detected normally within 2 to max up-to 12 hours. After that, it is difficult to establish the use of alcohol through the urine test.

In how much time can one expect to get the drug test results?

Drug tests conducted at the workplace. However, the results can be received fast. There is also a procedure by which the results of the Drug test can be obtained by the employer on the same day. Though negative first stage results can be received within 24 hours, second stage testing can take a week.

If the result is negative, the review officer usually contacts the employer with the result. However, if the result is positive, the applicant is contacted for further questioning. Hence, in case you are using some medication that can affect the outcome, then the applicant is advised to declare it before the test, and better submit the proof as the prescription, medication bills, etc.

Is it possible that the workplace drug test is wrongly positive negative?

The main concern for anyone going for the test is that the result may be falsely positive or negative. Like in the case of the initial screening, the chance of wrong results is high, but the same is greatly minimized by doing the GC-MS second stage tests. So, it is always advisable to get complete testing done to avoid wrong results.

It is also important that before the test the subject must correctly declare all the prescribed drugs, and medical history to ensure accurate testing. Many oral drugs can alter the correct results of drug testing.

Do Employers do the Drug Test in States Where it is legal to take Marijuana?

The rules from state to state vary even for cases where marijuana use is legal, but even then, employer take the drug test as excessive use can alter the ability of the applicant to perform specific functions especially the ones where public safety is involved. Moreover, many employers follow the drug-free workplace policies. They also prefer to conduct a drug test for marijuana use before giving employment.