The National Institute on Drug Abuse has determined that most illegal substance users are employed. This is why it is no surprise that random drug testing, post-accident drug testing, and reasonable suspicion testing are routine in the workplace. However, the most commonly implemented drug testing practice is pre-employment drug testing.
Enforcing a zero-tolerance workplace drug policy not only ensures the health and safety of workers, but also increases productivity by reducing missed days, increasing efficiency, and managing industry reputation.
Potential employees are commonly tested by a 5-panel screen which includes drugs like cocaine, opiates, marijuana, phencyclidine (PCP), and amphetamines. Safety-sensitive industries such as transportation may require 10-panel or 12-panel screens that incorporate benzodiazepines, alcohol, MDMA, and barbiturates among others.
A number of different specimen types and techniques can be used in drug testing. Each has its specific advantages and disadvantages.
According to the background screening firm HireRight, 90% of employers use urinalysis as their primary mode of drug testing. It is convenient, easy to administer, affordable, and offers rapid results.
Although its relatively short testing window can only test for substances consumed within the last 1- to 10 days (depending on the drug), it can detect even trace amounts of a drug in the body. It is considered the “gold standard” for drug testing and is currently the only drug test accepted in cases where testing is a federal requirement. For example, the transportation industry is required by law to conduct urine drug screens (although for that specific industry, lab-based testing is required).
Almost as affordable and convenient as urinalysis, the oral swab test is preferred when it comes to testing for immediate drug use. 10% of employers utilize the oral swab test.
Given its alternative names ‘saliva test’ and ‘oral fluid test’, it looks for drug and/or its metabolites in saliva samples taken from the oral cavity (mouth). It generally can only detect substances consumed within the last 2 days.
This minimally invasive procedure can be done right in front of the employer, reducing any chances of tampering or adulteration. It makes it easy to collect samples, and can thus also be done on-site to save time and money. It also eliminates the need for collection by individuals of the same gender.
One of the more expensive options is hair testing. This mode of drug testing is only chosen by 7% of employers. Its advantage is that it can detect drug use over a prolonged period of time. Cutting a small amount of hair close to the scalp and testing it can confirm the presence of any opioids, methamphetamine, cocaine, cannabis or other drugs taken within the last 90 days.
The window of detection is much longer than that of urinalysis, but its disadvantage is that you could receive a false negative result if the drug tested was taken recently. The time to detection is approximately 7 days, since there it takes time for the hair containing the drug to grow out.
Dyes, styling products, and other hair chemicals do not affect the result.
This invasive mode of drug testing is usually used as a follow-up to a positive drug test. It’s usually done in a laboratory setting. Withdrawing a blood sample and testing it for drug metabolites is a good idea if you want to confirm that a positive rapid test was accurate. This is a more expensive type of test that requires a trained medical professional to administer.
A sweat test is not commonly used as a drug testing method. In this case, sweat is collected via patches worn on the skin for a number of days. The patch then undergoes analysis and is checked for drugs of abuse. It can detect drug use for the perod of time it is worn, often longer than that of a urinalysis.
Best Pre-Employment Drug Testing Options
To determine the best type(s) of testing to use in your workplace setting, it is best to develop workplace drug testing policy and procedures with the assistance of a consultant familiar with legal and most effective practices.
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