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Article Summary

Types of Drug Testing

There are five primary types of drug tests: urine, blood, hair, saliva, and sweat. Most common is the urine test which has the benefit of being inexpensive and less intrusive than the blood test.

Urine Tests

Are the least expensive of the test methods (~$7-$50 for home version).
Are considered an intrusive method of testing.
Can be done at home (for example by parents) though require lab verification for accurate results.
Detect use primarily within the past week (longer with regular use).
Can be affected by abstaining from use for a period of time before the test.
Are often temperature tested to insure sample integrity.

Saliva Tests

Are a little more expensive than urine testing, but less than hair or blood. (~$15-$75).
Are considered a relatively unintrusive method of drug testing.
Are becoming more common.
Are easy to administer but require lab processing to ensure accuracy.
Detect use primarily within the past few days.
Can detect more recent use than other testing methods.
Have no nationally accepted standards or cutoff concentrations for detection, making results greatly dependent on the specific product purchased. This could also make results less-reliable and/or acceptable for legal cases.
More reliable for detection of Methamphetamine and Opiates, less reliable for THC or Cannabinoids (2004).

Hair Tests

Are currently several times more expensive than urine tests (~$100-$150).
Are considered a relatively unintrusive method of drug testing.
Detect substance use over a longer period (see detection period).
Do not usually detect use within the past week.
Require a sample of hair about the diameter of a pencil and 1.5 inches long. They can not be done with a single hair.
Test positive a little more than twice as often as an urine test. In a recent study, out of 1823 paired hair and urine samples, 57 urine samples tested positive for drugs of abuse; while 124 hair samples from the same group tested positive.
Are not significantly affected by brief periods of abstinence from drugs.
Can sometimes be used to determine when use occured and if it has been discontinued. Drugs, such as opiates (codeine, morphine, heroin) lay down on the hair shaft very tightly and are shown not to migrate along the shaft, thus, if a long segment of hair is available one can draw some "relative" conclusions about when the use occurred. However cocaine, although very easy to detect, is able to migrate along the shaft; making it very difficult to determine when the drug was used and for how long.
Claims to be able to reliably differentiate between opiate and poppy seed use.
We've heard that many hair tests now check for more than the NIDA 5, and include at least Cannabis, Ecstasy/MDMA, Cocaine, Opiates, Methamphetamine, Amphetamine, Phencyclidine (PCP), Benzodiazepines, & Barbiturates (2001).

Blood Tests

Are the most expensive method of testing.
Are considered the most intrusive method of testing.
Are the most accurate method of testing.
Are the least common method of testing (most likely due to cost).

Sweat (Patch) Tests

Are considered a relatively intrusive method of drug testing because they require the wearing of a patch for an extended period of time.
Are still relatively uncommon.
Are controversial in terms of accuracy. There is some reason to believe that surface contamination (such as cannabis smoke) can cause a false reading.
Can detect use which would not trigger other tests. Because of the short detection period for many drugs in urine, single use of many drugs longer than a week prior to using the patch will not cause a positive urine test. Because the skin patches are gathering sweat over an extended period of time, it is possible that any use during that time will produce a positive result.

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