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Law enforcement officials, doctors, schools, and
employers use drug testing to determine whether there are any substances in
your body. Today, hundreds of thousands of these tests are performed every year
in work environments, hospitals, and schools.
In the guide below, we have compiled information about
the subject, with factual knowledge to help you understand everything there is
to know about drug testing. Read on to learn more:
Otherwise referred to as drug screening, drug testing
relates to any medical test performed to analyze biological specimen from the
body. During such screening, the medics will examine your sweat, hair, saliva,
blood, and just about any other part of your body.
The tests are perfect to detect the presence of or any
prior use of illicit drugs and their metabolites. In such a case, metabolites
refer to the inactive metabolizing form of the parent drug.
For most users, drug testing is a nightmare. This is
because the substances you abused yesterday, over the weekend, or even during
the last party you attended might still be lodged inside your body.
Drug testing is performed to detect the abuse of any
illicit drug among criminal offenders, athletes, job applicants, and
participants in a rehabilitation program, among others. If the testing experts
detect such use, you might typically have to endure some dire consequence.
Recent scientific advances have birthed sophisticated
drug test types. As such, you might have to deal with the consequences of
getting found with illicit substances in your body. The earlier you clean up,
such as by attending rehab and undergoing detoxification, the easier it will be
In the case of employment, drug and alcohol abuse tends
to create significant health and safety hazards. Such abuse might also result
in poor employee morale and decreased productivity, while also leading to
additional costs for employers in the form of short term disability claims
among other health care claims.
To this end, many employers have implemented drug testing
In general, there are many types of drug testing. These
types are divided into two broad categories: professional tests performed by
qualified experts in sophisticated facilities and drug testing performed at
Some drug tests can easily be performed at home. These
include oral fluid and saliva tests and urine tests. All you have to do is
purchase the home drug test over the counter, collect a sample of saliva or
urine, dip the kit in the collected sample and check the reading.
In many cases, you might also be able to buy home drug
testing kits over the internet.
The secret to successful drug testing at home lies in
getting a high-quality test kits. However, even these types of kits might still
not work correctly. To counter the problem, you need to do tons of research,
improve your knowledge of how testing works, and approach the test carefully.
That said, some home drug test kits might be able to
provide fairly accurate results. However, this will only happen if you perform
the test carefully and correctly.
Among all types of drug tests, professionally conducted
ones tend to be more accurate. As such, they are also more likely to provide
you with deeper insight. However, this also means that they are usually more
expensive than home kits.
Among these professional tests, there are many sub-types,
including but not limited to:
Urinalysis is so popular that 90% of the more than 55
million drug tests done in 2015 were of this kind. In fact, it is so popular
that it is now considered to the gold standard in the drug testing industry.
Drugs tend to metabolize when you abuse them. As such,
urine tests are not usually performed with the popular of detecting the
presence of illicit parent drugs. Instead, they will be done to check for the
presence of certain non-psychoactive substance metabolites. For instance, the
primary metabolite for marijuana is THC-COOH, a fat soluble substance which is
detectable in urine for close to 14 days.
The only flaw with urine testing is that it is quite easy
to beat. This is one of the reasons why urinalysis will only be part of the
comprehensive drug testing performed in many professional settings.
Blood tests are the most accurate and invasive forms of
testing. Unlike with urinalysis, these types of tests are more likely to detect
the presence of a parent drug (and not just their metabolites). This is because
many drugs - including marijuana and nicotine - will be absorbed instantly into
your blood stream, making it easy to detect them.
However, blood testing is quite expensive. As such, it is
less common and might only be administered if the law or a lot of money is on
the line. Similarly, many drugs won't stay in the bloodstream for long. For
instance, blood tests will not detect marijuana a couple of hours after you
used it. Still, the tests might detect the drug if you are a chronic user and
you abuse it less than 24 hours before the testing.
Saliva or swab testing might be administered in the hope
of detecting the presence of a parent drug. This type of test is popular
because it is less expensive than blood testing and less invasive compared to
However, the accuracy of swab testing might be
questionable unless it is done right. For instance, tiny amounts of nicotine
from smoking tobacco and THC from using marijuana will be released into the
Therefore, the window for detecting illicit substances in
saliva tends to be quite small, usually within a couple of hours after you
abuse the drugs. Still, some drugs do seep into the oral fluid by diffusing
from the blood stream. These types of drugs might be detected a little longer
after you use them.
That said, the key factors behind the growing popularity
of saliva and swab testing include the ease of use as well as the relatively
low cost of administering these types of tests.
This type of test is usually applied in research settings
because it is quite hard to beat. However, it is one of the least accurate of
all approaches to drug testing for many reasons.
For instance, hair follicle testing is designed to detect
the presence of metabolites from parent drugs that have diffused into the
follicle from the blood stream. Still, the test is useful because it offers
unique data. If performed well, it might help the tester to detect the drug you
have been abusing as well as your general patterns of abuse. As such, if you
used a drug but abstained after a while before abusing it again, hair follicle
testing might be able to reveal all this data.
The main problem affecting hair testing lies in the fact
that the samples might be contaminated from the surroundings. This means that
even the smallest amount of smoke or powder might get stuck in the hair and
lead to a false-positive test.
Although some renowned labs have tried to dismiss this
claim, many experts still believed that dark hair tends to attract contaminants
more than white hair does. This makes Latinos, Africans, and Asians highly
prone to receiving false positive results after a hair follicle test.
Today, the Federal Government is the biggest drug tester
in the country. However, there are several other instances where drug testing
might happen. Consider the following:
There are many circumstances under which you might be
required to undergo a drug test. These situations include but are not limited
Most employers will ask that you undergo drug testing
before they give you a job. This is mostly done to ensure that the employer
does not hire individuals who use illicit drugs and harmful substances.
In many cases, pre-employment drug testing will take
place after the employer makes a conditional offer of employment. As an
applicant, you need to agree to get tested, and you will not get the position
if you receive positive results.
However, some applicants might prepare for the pre-employment
test by keeping away from drugs and other illicit substances for several days
before the test is performed. For this reason, you might still get the job but
be placed on probation before you are fully absorbed into the organization.
After some time, you will get tested with no prior warning.
Still, this process is restricted in some states.
Similarly, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) of 1990 has prohibited the
application of pre-employment drug testing for alcohol abuse/use.
Here, the drug testing might involve an announced test to
check that you are ready to go back to work. In many cases, this happens after
you tested positive and were compelled to undergo treatment for drug abuse.
This means that the employer will want to check whether you are clean.
However, some employers might also apply return-to-duty
testing if you have been absent from work for a long time.
Reasonable suspicion drug testing is also referred to as
for-cause or probable-cause testing. It is usually performed when a supervisor
documents observable symptoms and signs that lead them to suspect that you have
been using drugs, or that you have violated existing drug-free workplace
For reasonable suspicion testing to work, it is vital
that there are clear and consistent definitions of the types of behavior that
justify the testing. Similarly, the suspicion must be corroborated by more than
one manager or supervisor.
Probable-cause testing is typically at the discretion of the
management at an organization. This means that it often requires the careful
and comprehensive training of managers and supervisors.
Additionally, employees who are suspected of violating
drug use policies or of regular substance abuse should not return to work as
they continue waiting for the results of the test.
Random testing tends to be performed on an unpredictable
and unannounced basis on those employees with identifying information is placed
in a drug testing pool. From this pool, the employees are picked out
arbitrarily for testing, using the identifying information (employee number or
social security number).
The selection is usually generated by a computer to make
it as random as possible. Through this system, everyone in the workforce has an
equal chance of getting selected for the test - regardless of whether or not
they were recently tested.
Many employers perform random drug testing because the
fact that it comes with no notice ensures that it serves as the perfect
Personal injury and property damage might result from an
accident. As such, when drug testing is performed after an accident, it will
mostly be to determine whether the accident was caused by alcohol or drug use.
However, for this to happen, the organization requiring
the test needs to establish objective criteria to trigger the test and
determine who will perform the test and document the results.
Examples of the criteria used to require a post-accident
drug test include but are not limited to:
Although results from such a test will determine the
certain use of illicit substances, a positive result might not be enough to
prove that the accident was as direct result of such use.
While such testing is being conducted, the employer needs
to keep the employees involved in the accident away from work. It is also vital
that the employer sets guidelines specifying how soon after an accident the
testing should be conducted. This ensures that the results are more relevant.
In many cases, different illicit drugs and other addictive
substances tend to remain in the system for varying periods. This is why it is
highly recommended that post-accident drug testing happens within the first 12
hours following an accident.
That said, some employers have expanded the testing
trigger to serious incidents. This means that even in those situations where an
injury or accident was averted, testing will still be performed.
Periodic drug testing is typically uniformly administered
and scheduled in advance. In many instances, your employer might use it every
year - especially if your job requires a physical.
Due to their nature, periodic testing is more acceptable
to employees, particularly in comparison to unannounced tests. However, you
might be able to prepare for them by stopping your drug and alcohol abuse
several days before the test - which might make the results less reliable.
Otherwise referred to as follow-up testing, post rehab
test are conducted after you return to work upon your completion of
rehabilitation treatment for a known alcohol or drug problem.
To ensure its veracity, many employers will perform
follow-up testing on an unpredictable and unannounced basis for a given period
- as specified in the drug-free policy at the work place.
Blanket drug testing is quite similar to random testing.
This is in the sense that it is unannounced but isn't based on suspicion.
Rather, everyone at work will be tested - instead of a percentage that was
Employers use a wide variety of other tests to detect
drug and substance abuse. These include:
If done properly, drug testing is usually accurate.
However, it can also be beaten easily, and the results might be misleading.
Accuracy usually depends on the strictness of the collection. Such collection
must also be done within the detection window of the substance. Further, the
accuracy will be based on whether the drug testing was random or if the subject
knew that they would get tested.
With regards to the strictness of collecting a specimen,
consider the case of urine. When the tester collects urine, the temperature
must be anywhere from 96 to 99 degrees otherwise the subject might contaminate
the urine and cause misleading results.
Apart from the above, illicit substances tend to have
different detection windows depending on the type of testing that is performed.
As such, a specimen that is collected too late or too soon might not offer
That said, most drugs appear in the blood stream quickly
but get extracted by the system shortly after you use them. Similarly, testing
oral fluid for drugs will only yield correct results if it is done some hours
after the drug was used.
The best way to ensure that drug testing provides the
right results is to perform it when the subjects have no prior knowledge that
they will be tested. This way, they won't get the opportunity to try and beat
the testing or to abstain from their usual drug use.
As mentioned earlier, urinalysis is the most common type
of drug testing. This test can be performed at work (such as in the health
unit), at a doctor's office, or on any other site chosen by the organization.
The applicant or employee will provide a sample for
testing. In many cases, precautions need to be taken to ensure that the test
subjects do not substitute specimen or adulterate it. For instance, the
organization might put blue dye in the toilet and turn off the water supply. By
so doing, the employer will ensure that test subjects collect samples in
privacy and without direct observation.
According to SAMHSA's guidelines, after the subject
provides a sample, it should be sent to a certified drug testing laboratory.
This is because drug tests performed at these kinds of labs tend to be highly
accurate. However, this type of certification only applies to alcohol and the 5
substances usually tested for in most federal drug testing programs.
The procedures stipulated in the SAMHSA guidelines to
ensure the validity and accuracy of the testing process include:
During drug testing, chain of custody forms should be
used to document the receipt, handling, and storage of specimen from the point
at which it was collected all the way to its disposal. This document will link
test subjects to their samples. It also acts as veritable written proof of
everything that happens to samples both at the point of collection and at the
This is the first analysis done on a specimen. However,
the initial test by itself is not always reliable or accurate, and there might
be a possibility of false positive readings. To this end, when the initial
screening provides a positive reading, the tester will have to perform a
This is the second test required to verify the readings
from the initial screening. It is usually performed using a GS/MS (gas
chromatography or mass spectrometry). As such, confirmation tests tend to be
more accurate, especially because they provide the specificity that helps rule
out false positives and mistakes from the initial screen test.
For the complete test results to be considered
conclusive, results from both the initial screening and the confirmatory tests
In many cases, the initial urine specimen might be split
into two to create a split sample. One sample will be used during the initial
screening. If it is found to be positive, the second specimen sample will be
run through a confirmation test.
If the result is positive, the subject might request for
another confirmation test from a different laboratory. The drug and alcohol
testing regulations outlined by the DOT require that all types of drug testing
be performed using the split sample collection process.
If the confirmation test and the initial screening test
yield positive results, a licensed medical doctor with special training in
substance abuse will review the result to verify that everything went by the
They will, for instance, ensure that the professionals
handling the specimen and performing the test followed the chain of custody
procedures. After that, they will get in touch with the test subject to ensure
that the result wasn't caused by any other reason (medical or not). At this
point, the doctor will report the positive results to the organization.
However, certain medications are known to lead to
positive results from drug tests. When this happens, and it is found that the
subject was used medication from a doctor's prescription in the right amounts
and at the right times, the test results will be reported as negative.
Drug detection times are used to indicate the point in
time within which drug testing can conclusively reveal the presence of parent
drugs and/or their metabolites in a sample of saliva, hair, urine, or blood. It
will include the time from when the substances are first detectable to the
point where you are going to test clean.
For most drugs, drug detection times tend to vary. They
range from a couple of hours to several months depending on the following
Similarly, the testing of OTC (over the counter)
medications, prescription drugs, and some foods might yield false detection
times and lead you to fail the drug testing even if you are completely
innocent. In such a case, the test would be considered a false positive.
Still, many drugs can be detected in a specimen sample of
saliva or urine within 2 to 8 hours after use. Blood tests, however, detect
drugs almost immediately. In the case of hair, the drug might still show up
about 5 to 7 days after you used it. This happens because body hair tends to
In many cases, drug testing will not look for the actual
substance you might have abused. Rather, it will be performed to check for
metabolites. When you ingest illicit substances, your body will metabolize
(change) the substance into a metabolite. As such, drug tests will look for
The metabolites that your system does not use are more
likely to be stored in fast growing cells (such as the nails, hair, and the
body's fatty cells). Therefore, if your body has more fatty cells, the drug
detection time might be longer than another person with fewer of these cells.
However, the exact timetable showing how long illicit
substances will remain detectable might be impossible to determine exactly.
This is because there are many factors which might affect how your body
processes and stores drug metabolites.
Many tests also come with different cut off levels, which
might decrease or increase the drug detection times. For instance, drug tests
for amphetamine are available in cut-off levels ranging from 500 to 1000 pg/mg.
The detection times are correspondingly longer for higher cut off levels.
That said, drug detection times tend to vary based on the
Human metabolism tends to slow down with age. Therefore,
older subjects tend to have longer drug detection times.
Small or single doses of illicit substances might not be
as easily detected as long term or chronic use.
Increased body mass might slow down your metabolism.
Therefore, if you have larger body mass, the drug detection time might be
Frequent users might metabolize their drug of choice
faster once their bodies establish tolerance to the illicit substance. This
will shorten the detection time.
If you have a slow body metabolism rate, the detection
time might be longer.
Metabolism tends to slow down when you are in poor
health, which might result in longer detection times.
If you are physically inactive and your body fat
percentage is relatively high in relation to your total body mass, you might be
prone to longer detection times. This is due to the increase in the excess drug
metabolites getting stored in your body's fatty cells.
The pH of your urine might impact the detection of
illicit substance abuse. This is because highly acidic urine tends to shorten
the drug detection time.
Consider the detection times for the following commonly
If you are a chronic user, the drugs might be retained
within the body system much longer after your last use. For instance, PCP and
marijuana might stay in the system and be detectable for more than 30 days if
you have been using them heavily.
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