Which Type of Drug Screen is the Best (for your organization’s goals)?

Have you ever wondered which type of drug screen is best for your workplace? There are three standard options. Urine and saliva testing are considered non-invasive; hair testing, while not invasive, can be bothersome to some individuals. Each provides quick drug screen results. Which test is most suitable for your workplace? It is helpful to understand the differences between each process and determine which method helps you satisfy the goals of your program or what you are looking to accomplish with the results?

So, let’s get started by breaking down each type of test. This information reflects the use of lab-based drug screening information.

Test TypeCollectionTypeCollectorDrug Detection TimeResult Turn around TimePanels* (what drugs will you test for)
Saliva/OralFluidAlmost anywhereThe employee does a self-collect while monitored by a manager or supervisor trained for oral fluid collectionApprox. 12 to24 hrs1 to 2 days negative 3 to 5days positiveMainly limited to 4, 5, and 9,10 panels
UrineA collection site or onsiteCertified DOTcollectorApprox. 72hours, except for marijuana and a few long-term suspension drugs, generally narcotics1 to 2 days negative 3 to 5 days positiveA wide variety you can create or use basic 4,5 and 9, 10 panels
HairA collection site or onsiteCertified DOTcollectorApprox. 90days1 to 2 days negative 3 to 5 days positiveLimited to specific panels range 4 to 17 panel

*The basic five-panel test includes cocaine, amphetamines/methamphetamines, marijuana, PCP, opiates(including codeine, morphine, hydromorphone, hydrocodone). A ten-panel test consists of the five substances in the previous panel plus barbiturates, benzodiazepines, methadone, methaqualone, and propoxyphene. Four and nine panels exclude marijuana. In some settings, such as health care, the numbers and levels for the detectable drugs will vary dramatically.

When deciding which drug test to use, you must determine the goals of your testing program, such as creating a safe workplace, reducing workers comp claims and costs, health care costs, avoiding being the employer of last resort, reducing downtime, workplace accidents, employee loyalty, and the morale of employees.

If you want to determine if someone is at-the-moment under the influence, your best option is to conduct a lab-based oral fluid test or a urine drug test. In general, oral fluid identifies use within 12 to 24hours, while urine testing has a longer detection window. Is the window of detection important to your organization? While not a guarantee that the person is impaired at the moment, a test result and first-hand observations can make a strong case for impairment. Unlike a breathalyzer for alcohol, there is currently no accepted standard form of drug testing that can determine at moment impairment this is most acutely the case for marijuana

Urine drug screening is commonly used for all forms of testing (post-offer, reasonable suspicion, post-accident, return to work, and follow-up). The US Department of Labor and the US Department of transportation standard for evidence of “current use.” For a Drug-Free Workplace Program, urine is an excellent option to deter use of any kind. Deterrence is often the most valuable and least appreciated benefit of a well-written and implemented drug-free workplace program.

Hair testing provides an approximately 90-day window of drug use. So a candidate who tests negative on a urine or saliva test may be positive on a hair test. Hair tests indicate past use but not necessarily use in the last couple of days. Hair testing is a good option for post-offer of employment in high-risk positions. It may also help monitor a person going through an extended and/or mandated substance abuse rehabilitation program.

As you decide which drug testing type will be the most effective and efficient for your organization, a combination of all two or three options may be the best choice. It is essential to follow all local, state, and federal regulations. Whichever route you choose, it is imperative to have a solid drug-free workplace policy in place, and it is a good idea to have your program overseen on your behalf by a qualified third-party drug testing administrator.

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