How To Choose and Use Drug Tests

Drug testing is an effective means of identifying people who are involved in using illegal drugs and the kind of drugs used. Hopefully, drug testing could be a step towards completely ending the user’s drug addiction.

Drug and alcohol testing is part of almost every business in the United States. Businesses and organizations that operate under certain government agencies have to include a drug and alcohol testing program that complies with the agency they are under as part of their company policy. Businesses benefit from having such a program in place because it promotes a healthy and safe working environment, increases productivity, and lowers cost of covering accidents and health-related issues.

Drug and Alcohol Testing Best Practices

However, there is no such thing as a perfect system and businesses will not always be able to follow their own policies, or sometimes, bend them every once in a while. Here is insight from compliance director Mary Brown-Ybos. She has been in the drug and alcohol compliance industry for 16 years and here are some of worst mistakes she wants to share based on her experience.

  • The company policy on drug and alcohol testing is not accessible to the employees being tested. This policy should always be accessible to an employee because some employees are not aware of the policy itself.
  • Zero tolerance does not always mean zero. Sometimes an employee is so good at what they do that even when they receive a positive result on a drug test, employers will consider keeping them under grounds that they go to counseling or rehabilitation. This is fine, but the company has to legally change their Zero Tolerance policy, as this does not fit under the legal definition of zero tolerance.
  • Misuse of Pre-Employment testing, or when an employer does not understand their agency’s requirements for their drug and alcohol testing program.
  • Marking a CCF as Random Testing instead of Reasonable Suspicion.
  • Misuse of post-accident testing misuse because employees are sent to DOT post-accident testing instead of being sent for a corporate non-regulated test.
  • Having a test tagged as return-to-duty when an employee is already back on duty. An employee must take the return-to-duty test (and be cleared) first before starting work again.
  • Having a return-to-duty test tagged as a pre-employment test. An employee was tested positive and just a week after, they performed a pre-employment test to place the employee back on duty.
  • An employee was randomly chosen for drug testing only but they also performed alcohol testing. This is a company policy violation and will give a false notion that testing is not randomly chosen.
  • Using hearsay as a basis for performing a reasonable suspicion test. Hearsay should be taken seriously but should not be taken as grounds for performing the test.
  • Employers should complete the required random testing percentage. There are still companies that come up short, resulting in a violation of company policy.

Drug and alcohol testing policies are implemented to promote a healthy lifestyle and to safeguard the lives of employees. That is why it is important to understand, follow, and thoroughly implement the policy. Completing the proper paperwork, using the right type of test, and other instructions must be followed to provide for a smoothly operating system.

Business owners should look at drug testing as a way of increasing worker’s performance. By implementing a drug testing program, the company or organization can choose the best applicants who can perform their jobs well and at the same time project a better public image for the organization.

How to Get A Drug Test

There are several options on how to get a drug test:

Order a drug test kit online

This option is probably the most logistically convenient. A few clicks and an instant drug test kit will arrive at your doorstep in a few days. No tiresome trips across town, no embarrassing moments collecting or submitting samples in front of strangers in a collection site, no appointments to keep, etc. You can perform your desired drug test in the privacy of your own home at a time that is most convenient for you. However, you will have to do a little research of your own if only to find enough information to help you decide exactly what kind of test you would prefer to do.

The method you choose will also depend upon what substance or substances you wish to test for. While you’re at it, you might as well learn a little something about drug detection times– this added information might help you decide what drug testing method to use.

  • Urine test – This is the most popular and technologically developed drug testing method. Being the least expensive as well, urine test kits are the most widely available.
  • Blood test – A blood test offers the best correlation between drug level and impairment and is able to identify the parent drug. The main disadvantage of this method is that many test subjects find the sample collection rather invasive. While it is the most accurate method of testing, a blood test is also the most expensive.
  • Saliva test – This method is fast becoming the most favored method of testing for drugs due to the ease by which a saliva sample is collected. It is as widely available as urine tests and almost as inexpensive.
  • Hair test – Only a hair test can establish long-term substance use. With a minimum of 1.5 inches of hair cut close to the scalp, a 90-day history can be detected, if any. This option is more expensive than urine or saliva test but less than a blood test.

Depending on the drug and testing medium, screening can make use of urine, hair, blood, or saliva for testing. The selected testing medium can have an effect on how far back the substances can be detected. Aside from that, the size, weight, health, hydration level, and similar factors may affect the extent of detection of drug abuse.

Visit your nearest drugstore

Most drugstores now carry home drug test kits. They will be found typically grouped with other home tests and/or health monitors/devices. You will find single tests for the more popular substances of abuse like marijuana or cocaine along with multi-panel test kits that test for 5 or 8 or even 12 different drugs. The test kits typically go for as much as $40 for a 12-panel test and about $16 for a marijuana test. Prices would be higher than those ordered online as most of these tests will include a confirmatory lab test should you get a positive result.

Schedule a Drug Test Online

If you do not trust yourself to do the test on your own and would prefer professionals to handle everything including collecting the sample, there is still a convenient way to schedule a drug test online. You will not need to drop in without an appointment and risk being asked to come back another day.

Ask your doctor

Simply ask your medical provider to do the test for you. While they may be able to collect the specimen for you (e.g. draw blood), know that they might have to send that sample to some other lab for the actual screening. This procedure will also go into your EHR (electronic health record). An EHR may be shared with other medical providers over at other healthcare organizations. Healthcare providers include emergency facilities, laboratories, specialist clinics, pharmacies, medical imaging facilities, school clinics and workplace clinics.

Urine Drug Testing

Urine drug testing is the most common method of drug testing because of several reasons:

  • It is non-invasive.
  • It is inexpensive.
  • It can be collected even by non-medical personnel.
  • Urine is a matrix that remains stable over time and can be frozen to maintain the integrity of the sample.

Although not unlimited when it comes to the number of drugs that can be tested, urine drug tests can detect several drugs, which include marijuana, cocaine, PCP, amphetamine, Ecstasy, methamphetamine, opiates, oxycodone, methadone, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, buprenorphine, tricyclic antidepressants, propoxyphene, tramadol, fentanyl, sufentanil, zolpidem, carisoprodol, meperidine, antihistamines, synthetic cannabinoids, designer stimulants (bath salts), dextromethorphan, direct ethanol biomarkers, high potency opioids, ketamine, propofol glucuronide, & Ritalin.

There is also an option for testing alcohol but since it cannot be detected from urine and the bloodstream, it is usually implemented for random testing and due to reasonable suspicion. Breathalyzer tests are best for detecting alcohol abuse.

The table below shows the detection time and cut-off levels for each of the illicit substances which can be detected using a urine and saliva drug test.

Urine Drug Testing

Substance

Cut-Off Level

EIA Screen Cutoff Level

GC/MS Confirmation Cutoff Level

Approximate Detection Time in Urine

Amphetamine (AMP)

1000 ng/mL

1000 ng/mL

500 ng/mL

2-4 Days

Amphetamine (AMP300)

300 ng/mL

1000 ng/mL

500 ng/mL

2-4 Days

Methamphetamine (MET)

1000 ng/mL

1000 ng/mL

500 ng/mL

3-5 Days

Methamphetamine (MET500)

500 ng/mL

1000 ng/mL

500 ng/mL

3-5 Days

Cocaine (COC)

300 ng/mL

300 ng/mL

150 ng/mL

2-4 Days

Cocaine (COC150)

150 ng/mL

300 ng/mL

150 ng/mL

2-4 Days

THC (THC)

50 ng/mL

50 ng/mL

15 ng/mL

15-30 Days

Opiates (OPI)

2000 ng/mL

2000 ng/mL

2000 ng/mL

2-4 Days

Opiates (MOR)

300 ng/mL

2000 ng/mL

2000 ng/mL

2-4 Days

Phencyclidine (PCP)

25 ng/mL

25 ng/mL

25 ng/mL

7-14 Days

Barbiturates (BAR)

300 ng/mL

300 ng/mL

150 ng/mL

4-7 Days

Benzodiazepines (BZO)

300 ng/mL

300 ng/mL

150 ng/mL

3-7 Days

Methadone (MTD)

300 ng/mL

300 ng/mL

150 ng/mL

3-5 Days

Propxyphene (PPX)

300 ng/mL

300 ng/mL

150 ng/mL

1-2 Days

Ecstasy (MDMA)

500 ng/mL

-

-

1-3 Days

Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCA)

1000 ng/mL

-

-

7-10 Days

Hydrocodone

300 ng/mL

-

300 ng/mL

2-4 Days

Hydromorphone

300 ng/mL

-

300 ng/mL

2-4 Days

Oxycodone (OXY)

100 ng/mL

-

100 ng/mL

2-4 Days

Oxymorphone

100 ng/mL

-

100 ng/mL

2-4 Days


Saliva Drug Testing

Substance

Cut-Off Level

EIA Screen Cutoff Level

GC/MS Confirmation Cutoff Level

Approximate Detection Time in Urine

Amphetamine (AMP)

1000 ng/mL

1000 ng/mL

500 ng/mL

1-3 Days

Methamphetamine (MET)

1000 ng/mL

1000 ng/mL

500 ng/mL

1-3 Days

Cocaine (COC)

300 ng/mL

300 ng/mL

150 ng/mL

1-3 Days

THC (THC)

50 ng/mL

50 ng/mL

15 ng/mL

6 -12 Hours

Opiates (OPI)

2000 ng/mL

2000 ng/mL

2000 ng/mL

1-3 Days

Phencyclidine (PCP)

25 ng/mL

25 ng/mL

25 ng/mL

1-3 Days


Many drug tests these days provide instant results. There are DIY or home drug test kits that provide results within minutes, particularly saliva and urine tests.

For lab-based drug tests, the availability of results varies depending on the type of specimen received. Urine test results are normally available from 24-48 hours from the time the lab receives the sample. Saliva test results are ready from 3-7 days upon receipt of sample and hair follicle test results can take from 3–14 days.

Drug test prices vary depending on what testing method is used, what and how many substances are being tested for. For example, 2-4 panel instant urine tests can go as low as $5 or less, while a 10-panel instant urine test can go anywhere from $6 to $14.

Instant saliva tests used to be a little more expensive than standard urine tests but over the years with new technological developments, their prices have gone down. As a result, their popularity has risen. Prices range from $7-$15 for 5-12 panel saliva test kits.

Blood tests and hair follicle tests are the more expensive options as they offer certain advantages over other methods of screening for drugs. A blood test is still considered the best correlation between impairment and drug level, so it may be the method of choice for certain specific cases.

A hair test, on the other hand, offers the best glimpse into long-term drug use. Multi-panel hair follicle tests for the standard 1.5 inches of hair sample or 90-day history would range from $65 - $85, with longer hair samples for a 365-day profile that parents favor going for upwards of $220. There’s even a comprehensive hair test specific to date rape drugs like Rohypnol, GHB and Ketamine that go for $599.

Where To Conduct Drug Testing

If you choose to conduct your drug testing at a clinic or laboratory, ensure that the testing firm that handles the procedure is a reputable and certified one. Credible testing programs will usually involve two steps, namely initial and confirmatory.

With on-site drug testing, you can immediately see the results of the testing. On-site drug testing is becoming popular because the employer can make decisions at the time of the testing. For confirmatory tests, an employee can conveniently return to the testing facility and resume work immediately.

When the sample requires further investigation, your manager will immediately know and have the capacity to monitor your testing as indicated in your drug and alcohol policy. Your sample will be sent to a NATA-accredited laboratory for confirmatory testing. When the confirmatory test has been returned, your doctor will help you interpret the results.

On-site testing can be incorporated into your drug and alcohol testing program or you can train your staff to collect the samples based on the AS/NZS 4308:2008 or AS 4760. This way, you can test your own staff whenever you want.

On the other hand, laboratory-based testing is done at a NATA-accredited laboratory for screening and confirmation (if needed). This reduces the possibility of on-site false positive and false negative results. At the same time, it provides confidentiality of drug testing.

Negative results can be retrieved usually a day after the samples have been received in the laboratory. A confirmation positive result is usually available after two business days after receiving the sample within the laboratory.

Third Party Administrators

As one of the major players in the Drug & Alcohol Testing business, the TPAs a.k.a. the Third Party Administrators, assume a substantial role in the growing success of the industry. If you have done your research already on how to get started in the drug testing business, then you must already know a little about what TPAs do. Otherwise, continue to read on and have a little know-how on this type of business sector.

Do’s for the TPAs

If you want to get into the drug testing business as a TPA there are some serious things you need to keep in mind, such as:

  • Do create a detailed business plan. In any type of venture, a business plan is required to set forth the goals and expectations of the dealings. A good business plan should outline the description of the products you will sell, your prospective customers, how you plan to promote, how much money is needed for start-up costs and your revenue and expenses projections.
  • Do read materials specific to your business. This is one of the most effective ways to increase your knowledge bank. The more you know what you’re getting into the more efficient you become as a TPA. Similarly, employers will begin to trust you if they know that you are an expert in your business. Keep in mind that your success will depend on your ability to provide services to your customers that are in compliance with a variety of Federal and State laws.
  • Do know the difference between DOT and Non-DOT drug testing programs. It’s one of the most basic things a TPA must do. Workers that fall under the DOT regulations must be given a specific type of drug test required for employment drug screening; whereas, individuals employed in positions that do not require drug screening under DOT regulations must be given non-DOT tests in accordance to their company’s drug testing policy.  Additionally, you must know what substance to check for and how often the drug tests are required.
  • Do purchase good equipment for your business. Naturally, you’ll need some computers, printers, scanners, software, phone systems and other office materials to operate your business. Cheaply-priced products are tempting but you’ll never really know how efficient they can be and how long they’ll last. Invest on good equipment and technology to succeed in your business.

Don’ts for the TPAs

Now that you have some ideas on the acceptable efforts you need to exert to get into the drug testing business, the next step is to know what must be avoided:

  • Don’t just buy the cheapest technology available. Even if you’re running a home-based drug testing business, the kind of technology you use will give you an idea of how far your business will go. Skimping isn’t a good idea. In fact, it can only hinder the achievement of your goals.
  • Don’t ignore training and workshops related to your business. Workshops, conferences and training programs help you professionally manage and administer your drug testing business. You’ll learn a lot from these resources. Foregoing them is synonymous with waiving your success. DATIA offers the Advanced Drug Testing Management Course. It’s a great way to expand your knowledge in the industry.
  • Don’t do everything by yourself. Learn the art of delegation. You’ll need to delegate in order to focus on the most important aspects of your business. Trying to do everything by yourself can be counterproductive. Hire skillful and trustworthy people to help you man your drug & alcohol testing business.

Types of Drug Testing

Before proceeding to choose the right drug testing method for your business, let us first discuss the different types of drug testing procedures available in the market. A “panel” refers to a drug or family of drug that is included in a drug test. The more panels included, the wider the scope of the test.

5-Panel Drug Test

This panel examines a specimen in order to test for 5 different substances: THC, cocaine, opiates, phencyclidine, and amphetamines. This is the most common drug test method used by the Department of Transportation and the Federal government.

There are other options available outside of the 5-panel drug test. With these procedures, you simply add more drugs to the panel. Although the number of drug panels is dependent on the employees being tested, combinations of drugs constitute a panel more frequently than others. If you want several panels tested, you will just add another drug to each additional panel.

6-Panel Drug Test

In this type of test, benzodiazepines are added. Benzodiazepines are designed for treating panic attacks, generalized anxiety, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal. Common examples of benzodiazepines are Valium & Klonopin. Although well-tolerated, the usual side effects associated with abuse of benzodiazepines include fatigue, dizziness, and weakness. The 6-panel drug test is recommended for industries that require alertness, such as jobs that involve heavy machinery.

7-Panel Drug Test

In a 7-panel drug test, barbiturates are added to the panel aside from benzodiazepines. These substances are sedative-hypnotic drugs designed to reduce anxiety and fight insomnia. Also known as downers, barbiturates can affect the brain in the same way alcohol or sleeping pills do.

These substances are frequently used in suicide attempts and may result in death or coma. When abused, barbiturates can lead to drowsiness and confusion. The 7-panel drug test can be used in industries where safety is a major concern.

8-Panel Drug Test

With the 8-panel drug test, the drug Quaalude is added to the equation. Quaalude is a brand name for the drug methaqualone. It is usually used recreationally for relaxing the muscles of an aphrodisiac. Currently, it is not frequently used in North America, and that is why the 7-panel drug test is more recommended than an 8-panel drug test within the U.S.

9-Panel Drug Test

In a 9-panel drug test, the drugs benzodiazepines, barbiturates, Quaaludes, & propoxyphene are added to the list of substances identified by the test. Propoxyphene is a highly addictive narcotic pain reliever. Once it interacts with other drugs, it can slow down the heartbeat, create confusion, cause fainting, and trigger seizures.

Testing an employee using the 9-panel drug test may make sense. Employees who experience so much pain will require a narcotic pain reliever, but the risky complications and the addictive nature of propoxyphene cannot be denied.

10-Panel Drug Test

In a 10-panel drug test, methadone is added to the previous nine drugs. It can be abused as a pain reliever and result in extreme exhaustion and numbness.

When the test is conducted in the laboratory, the results are usually available 24 to 48 business hours after collecting the samples. Confirmatory tests will take 48 to 72 hours after completion of the test.

11-Panel Drug Test

An 11-panel drug test includes everything on an 8-panel drug test but adds methadone, oxycodone, & tricyclic antidepressants. The latter is no longer popular as an anti-depressant mainly because of its many side effects. The drug is known for causing moderate cognitive impairment, anxiety, and exhaustion.

12-Panel Drug Test

A 12-panel drug test usually tests the same drugs as a 10-panel drug test but adds on Percocet/oxycodone and Ecstasy/MDMA. This type of drug test essentially checks for additional opiates and painkillers that may not be detected in fewer panels. This fairly comprehensive drug test is utilized in industries that have great responsibility for public welfare.

The 12-panel drug test is an accurate method for detecting recent drug use. It is widely popular for drug testing due to its speed and accuracy.

Which Drug Testing Method Is Best For You?

If you are not legally required to conduct testing beyond these substances, the 5-panel drug test is the most recommended procedure for drug testing. The test is designed to detect the presence of commonly abused street drugs. Larger panel drug tests aim to detect prescription drugs and painkillers as well.

However, determining the best drug testing method that is best for your company depends on several factors such as the industry you are in, the laws that govern the industry, and company culture.

Industry-Based Drug Testing Standards

  • In the Department of Transportation, the standard testing method for all drivers is the 5-panel drug test. They are required to undergo a pre-employment test, random drug test, and an annual drug test.
  • For home health aides, the recommended test method is the 8-panel drug test.
  • For construction and heavy machinery firms, the usual testing type involves 9 or more panels. These jobs entail alertness, and one of the side effects that need to be checked is fatigue, which can be extremely dangerous in high-activity industries.
  • Those who work in the civil service industry need to undergo and pass a 5-panel drug test, although some states require passing a 10-panel drug test.
  • For some employers looking to strictly enforce a drug-free workplace policy, employees need to pass a rigid 12-panel drug testing.

Corporate culture

For companies who employ wealthy and white collared workers, it is recommended to test them for designer drugs as well. These substances are designed to enhance focus. Although cocaine is still the most commonly abused substance, there has been a rise in the popularity of substances such as Ritalin, Adderall, and Provigil.

In addition, there are also companies that may have a culture that does not have any objection to a commonly tested drug. With the legalization of marijuana now extending to other states as well as different corporate views about the drugs, some companies might opt for a 4-panel drug test that is, testing drug metabolites found in a 5-panel drug test but with the exception of THC panel.

What to do prior to taking a drug test

Prior to getting started, the first thing you should check is what drugs the test detects to make sure they are the drugs you want to test for. Many instant drug testing kits will detect multiple drugs at one time. If you are testing for a specific drug, it is important to ensure your test will actually detect that specific drug.

The next thing to check is the expiration date of the test. Drug tests expire just like everything else and if you use an expired drug test, the results are automatically deemed to be questionable. Regardless of how accurate the test usually is, the chemicals inside of it are prone to breaking down after a certain time and it becomes less reliable. An expired test is useless and should be discarded.

What to check after collecting the sample for drug testing

To ensure that the sample taken adheres to the requirement for drug testing, the following should be noted.

Amount

Once your test subject has supplied the sample, the first thing to check is whether you have enough of that sample to get an accurate reading. Some drug tests come in their own containers to collect the sample while with others you will have to supply your own container. The containers that come with drug tests will likely have lines on them indicating the minimum amount required.

If the test does not come with its own container, the instructions should tell you what the minimum required amount is to perform the test.

Temperature

The next thing to check is the temperature. Some drug tests, particularly those that come with their own container, have temperature strips that will tell you the temperature of the sample. If the container does not have temperature strips or you have to use your own container, you can get temperature strips for it or use a thermometer.

A fresh sample should be at or just under body temperature, which is 98.6 F (37 C). If you are not testing the sample immediately after it is given, temperature becomes less important to check.

Control Line

In order to ascertain whether the test is working properly, you will then need to check the control line. Regardless of whether traces of drugs show up or not, the control line should always show up. It simply tells you that the test is working as it should. If the control line does not appear, that particular test has been rendered void and the results cannot be relied on to be accurate. That doesn’t mean that the test results are incorrect, just that they cannot be trusted to be accurate.

Some drug tests can test for multiple drugs at one time. If a control line appears for certain drugs but not for others, that means the test results are valid for the drugs that the control line showed up for, but are not valid for the drugs that the control line did not show up for.

Drug Testing Costs

Like most other things, drug testing technology continues to change rapidly and thus, the associated costs are also in constant flux.

It is best to make budget estimates for drug testing based on costs at the time that you are preparing your annual budget. The cost of supplies for maintaining a point of contact drug testing system vary widely depending on the type of test you use, the manufacturer of those tests, how many drugs they test for, and the quantity of tests required.

TestCountry helps cut down on these costs by providing you with a variety of brands and different types of tests to choose from. It is important to keep in mind that even though the cost of these tests drops if you purchase them in bulk, they have expiry dates and must be used prior to that date so it will not be worth it to purchase a large number of them unless you know you can use them before they expire.

Laboratory drug testing service costs also fluctuate between labs. TestCountry has a network of over 8,000 labs across the country to help you find an affordable laboratory in your area, no matter where your company is located.

Other factors you need to consider are the possibility of having to hire or train staff (although point-of-contact tests are easy to administer and read and laboratories have their own professionally trained staff) and whether or not you will need to store samples for later testing or store testing equipment.

Getting a handle on the relative costs of a drug testing program need not be difficult. An open and honest dialogue with point-of-contact test retailers and laboratories is the best way to ensure that you can tailor a drug testing program to your needs while maintaining your budget.


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