Alcohol and Drug Screening – Methods, Expectations, and Results
12 September, 2023
Alcohol and drug screening are methods to detect the presence of drugs and alcohol in a person’s system. They are commonly used in healthcare and workplace settings to determine if an individual is fit for duty or to help diagnose a medical condition. Screening tests can be done through urine, blood, saliva, and hair samples. Moreover, the results can indicate if a person has used drugs or alcohol recently or if they have an addiction problem.
The use or abuse of alcohol and illicit drugs brings negative consequences. It affects the health of the individual and compromises the safety of immediate surroundings. It can impair mental and physical abilities, such as perception, reasoning, and motor functions. As such, many employers require employees to undergo regular testing. This article will present the screening methods, what to expect during the tests and the implications of positive results.
What are the Methods of Alcohol and Drug Screening
There are various methods of alcohol and drug screening, with different procedures and accuracy. The most common type is urine testing. It involves collecting a urine sample and analysing it using immunoassays. The results can be obtained within a few minutes. This test can detect specific metabolites, indicating substance use.
Another method is oral fluid testing. It collects the saliva sample by swabbing the inside of the mouth. Like urine, it uses immunoassays to detect drugs and alcohol. Instant test kits are cost-effective as they can trace substances immediately. However, it has limitations, such as not being able to measure the concentration or amount in the system.
The third method is breath testing. It utilises a breathalyser device to measure Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) through an exhaled breath. Thus, it can determine recent alcohol consumption or impairment. Furthermore, the blood test provides an accurate and comprehensive analysis of drug and alcohol content in the system. However, it is invasive and costly. They are often used for confirmation tests in case of a non-negative sample.
What Can be Detected
- Marijuana – a psychoactive drug derived from the Cannabis plant. It contains chemical compounds that can alter perception, mood, and cognition.
- Cocaine – a powerful stimulant that speeds up the functions of the brain.
- Heroin – an illegal opioid known for its euphoric effects. It can be highly addictive.
- Amphetamines – a stimulant drug commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.
- Prescription opioids – a class of strong pain relievers. They can be highly addictive and should only be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
- Ethanol – the intoxicating substance in alcoholic beverages that affects the central nervous system.
What to Expect in an Alcohol and Drug Screening
When undergoing an alcohol and drug screening, individuals can expect the standard procedures. Firstly, they will be asked to sign a consent form. The employer or administrator explains the sampling process and what happens after the test. Secondly, they will have to provide a specimen, depending on the type of test.
For urine tests, a sample needs to be collected in a sterile container. For workplace testing, a mobile laboratory may set up a facility on-site. The environment must be clean and free of chemicals or cleaning agents. In the oral fluid tests, a lab technician swabs the mouth of a person. Most employers use rapid screening to receive the results immediately.
On the other hand, a breath test requires blowing to the breathalyser device. Testing centres or employers must use clean and new mouthpieces for each user. This helps to eliminate potential interference or contamination in the readings. Lastly, a blood test involves drawing a sample from a vein in the arm.
Preparing for a Screening
Adequate preparation before a test is essential to prevent any unexpected results. A healthcare provider may advise what to do or avoid. For example, they would recommend avoiding certain foods and drinks. When taking certain medications, inform the laboratory technician or employer. Additionally, it is important to be well-rested prior to the test.
For urine drug testing, maintain sufficient hydration. However, do not drink too much water, as it will dilute the sample and make the test invalid. For oral fluid and breath tests, abstain from eating or drinking 15 minutes before the procedure. Always follow the specific instructions of the administrator.
Implications of Non-negative Results in an Alcohol and Drug Screening
A non-negative test is when an alcohol and drug screening detects substances higher than the specified limit. However, it may vary depending on the type of test. Non-negative outcomes can have serious implications. Employees may face suspension or undergo rehabilitation. In severe cases, it can be a ground for dismissal or termination.
To ensure accurate and valid tests, it is necessary to subject the samples to confirmatory testing. Those with non-negative results undergo further laboratory analysis. It uses advanced techniques, like gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), to get the exact quantitation of drugs. Then, a Medical Review Officer (MRO) will evaluate the results and determine whether the person has taken drugs of abuse.
If the final result is positive, the employer may take disciplinary action based on the guidelines of a workplace policy. Large organisations have an Employee Assistance Program to help workers with drug or alcohol abuse issues. Individuals focus on treatment and recovery before they can go back to work. They must also prove their sobriety by submitting to new tests.
Handling False Non-negatives
A false non-negative result can happen for various reasons. Some factors can include sample contamination, passive inhalation, and exposure to certain products. A false result can have a negative impact on an individual’s reputation. It may also lead to legal issues if not handled properly. Therefore, employers must approach the situation with care and caution.
Employers must communicate the false result to the concerned individual with explanations of the discrepancy. Furthermore, it is important to maintain confidentiality. Lastly, it is crucial to take corrective measures to prevent similar instances. By following protocols, companies can maintain trust and fairness in their testing procedures.
Alcohol and drug screening is an important tool to detect the presence of alcohol and illegal drugs. It is common in workplaces with safety-sensitive environments to minimise the hazards of substance use. Organisations commonly use urine, oral fluid, and breath tests for efficient screening. Instant test kits and portable devices can provide results after a few minutes of taking the sample. If the initial screen is non-negative, the samples undergo further laboratory testing.
Confirmatory testing helps rule out false positives and invalid results. Moreover, it is vital to handle false, non-negative outcomes with care and caution. Employers must take appropriate measures based on the policies. Overall, drug and alcohol testing are proactive measures to minimise safety hazards and deter substance abuse. It can help protect employee safety and well-being, reduce costs, and improve productivity. In addition, it can also identify individuals needing intervention and provide them with support.