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Drug Screening Test: Definition, Types, & Understanding the Results

05 March, 2024

A testing facility with several people waiting

A drug screening test is a procedure for tracing the presence of drugs or drug metabolites in the body samples of individuals. It is a crucial safety procedure for many organisations. Hence, they implement saliva, hair, blood, and urine testing, depending on the circumstance. If the test produces a negative result, it can mean that there were no traces of substance were found. Meanwhile, a non-negative or positive result indicates the detected substance is above the designated cut-off level.

Drug tests play a crucial role in various industries. In workplaces, they ensure compliance with the relevant legislation and regulations. They also help police officers reduce road hazards by identifying impaired drivers. Testing is an effective deterrent for substance misuse. Furthermore, implementing penalties and disciplinary action emphasises the commitment to a drug-free environment. This article will present information on drug screening, the types of methods, and how to understand the results.

What is a Drug Screening Test?

A drug screening test is a process for detecting the presence of abused drugs or their metabolites in the system of an individual. It uses biological samples to identify the misuse using several testing methods. Various organisations conduct them, and the results can have significant impacts on the employment, legal status, or medical treatment of an individual.

Drug screenings are a common practice in high-risk industries, like construction, mining, and transportation, due to the safety-sensitive nature of the jobs. One example is a position that operates heavy machinery. Impairment during work increases the risk of accidents, which could cause injuries or fatalities. Repeated accidents can cause reputational damage and decrease trust between clients and the company.

To conduct a test, individuals can use drug screening kits for quick testing. These use immunoassays to analyse the samples and produce results within minutes. Others may opt to go to a testing facility for laboratory testing. Some organisations may also contact testing service providers to conduct an onsite test.

Importance in Various Settings

  • Work sites: Workplace drug tests help companies fulfil their legal obligation of maintaining a safe working environment. In particular, pre-employment drug testing can identify which candidates suit safety-sensitive positions.
  • Roads: Law enforcement officers conduct testing on roadsides to identify people committing drug driving offences. It helps reduce the risks of accidents.
  • Medical facilities: Testing is crucial for facilities to provide necessary treatments for overdose or post-accident injuries. It also helps them with creating treatment plans for rehabilitation.
  • Sporting events: Athletic testing occurs to maintain the integrity of the sport and to ensure fair competition among athletes.

An individual giving a urine sample container to a medical professional

Types of Drug Screening Tests

There are several types of drug screening tests that individuals and organisations can choose. Urine drug screening is a popular method in workplaces. It uses urine samples to trace several substances that the individual consumed. Urine drug screens have a detection window of days to weeks, depending on the drug.

Another convenient method of testing is oral fluid tests. In Australia, law enforcement officers use this to identify drivers violating drug driving laws. It is also helpful for onsite testing since it does not require special facilities for the collection process. Similar to urine drug tests, there are kits available for quick screening. Saliva tests have a detection period of 12 to 48 hours after drug usage.

Hair follicle screening for drugs is another option for organisations seeking a drug use history report. It has the longest detection window of 90 days. Furthermore, it requires laboratory analysis. Lastly, blood tests are more frequently used for medical testing and confirmatory drug tests. It is the most accurate method. However, it uses an invasive procedure to collect blood samples.

Substances that Can be Detected

Drug screening can detect various substances, regardless of the medium. It mostly depends on the panels used during analysis. Most kits offer panels for the common drugs of abuse, such as methamphetamines, benzodiazepines, opiates (morphine and codeine), cocaine, and cannabis (THC). Some also include opioids (methadone, oxycodone, fentanyl), barbiturates, and ethanol.

Therefore, it is essential to identify which panels are available when purchasing a kit. The same applies when talking to drug and alcohol testing service providers. Moreover, costs typically increase the more panels are involved due to the additional complexity and required time for analysis.

A drug test result for under medications

Understanding the Results of Drug Screening Tests

Understanding the results of drug screening tests is crucial for making informed decisions. A negative result indicates that no traces of illegal drug use were found in the sample. It may also mean the detected substance falls below the set cut-off levels. This is a crucial measure that helps prevent false positive results.

Meanwhile, a non-negative result signifies that trace concentrations of substances were found while testing for drugs. The result is referred to as not negative or requires further testing for the initial screens because further confirmatory testing may be needed to verify the presence of the drug. If confirmatory testing verifies the presence of drugs, it becomes a positive result. It is important to note that only laboratory testing can establish a positive result.

Laboratory confirmatory reports are crucial for ensuring the accuracy and reliability of drug testing. They use specialised techniques to quantify the amount of substance or drug metabolite in the sample. For confirmation testing, Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) is the gold standard because it provides highly accurate results.

Are There Risks for False Positives?

Yes, there are risks of false positives during drug testing. Various factors contribute to an inaccurate result. Some may have individual factors that may interfere with the test, such as kidney or liver diseases, consuming certain foods, and secondhand exposure to illicit drugs. Moreover, individuals should inform the organisation and testing service of prescription drugs or over-the-counter medicines they are taking before the collection procedure.

Furthermore, there are possibilities of sample contamination or tampering. Hence, it is crucial to follow the proper chain-of-custody process. They must also ensure collection containers are sterile and sealed. These should stored in a secure, temperature-controlled room to prevent degradation.

Conclusion

Drug screening tests help organisations identify individuals who are misusing illicit and prescription drugs. There are various applications for it in workplaces, sporting events, and medical facilities. Moreover, several testing methods are available, depending on the needs of the organisation. These methods include blood, hair, saliva, and urine tests. Altogether, these tests can identify misuse of prescription medicines, recreational drugs, and other illegal substances. Thus, it can provide peace of mind with accurate results.

Initial screening analysis is typically done using immunoassay methods. Meanwhile, confirmation testing utilises GC-MS for more accurate results. However, there are still chances of false positive results. For some, individual factors may interfere with the accuracy of the testing. There are also risks of sample contamination and adulteration. Hence, it is crucial to contact service providers that follow strict chain-of-custody procedures. Those using kits should carefully follow the instructions included. Workplace drug test kits are available here at Breathalysers Australia.

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