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.

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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.

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

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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

Saliva drug tests are the most accurate when the goal is to determine recency of drug use. The detection window for saliva drug tests is the shortest of all drug testing methods, which is beneficial if someone is suspected of using drugs onsite.

New Column New Column New Column New Column New Column

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.

Cost of drug tests:

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.

Types of drug test panels

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.