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Drug Screening: Types of Screening Methods & Understanding the Results

11 March, 2024

A hand holding a pack of pills while various types of drugs are scattered

Drug screening is the process of testing biological specimens to detect the presence of drug classes or drug metabolites. Accordingly, there are various types of screening methods. These include urine testing, saliva testing, hair drug testing, and blood tests. Moreover, understanding the results of drug testing is crucial. A negative result indicates the absence of substances. Meanwhile, a positive drug testing result signifies the presence of substances. Additionally, a non-negative result is similar to a positive but requires confirmatory testing.

Drug abuse is a serious issue that affects millions of people worldwide. Whether it is prescription drugs, illegal drugs, or alcohol, substance abuse can lead to addiction, health problems, and legal challenges. Hence, screening for substances is crucial in various settings. It ensures the safety and well-being of individuals. Also, it is a preventive measure to maintain a drug-free environment. This article will present information on screening for drugs, the types of drug tests, and how to understand the results.

What Is Drug Screening?

Drug screening is a method used to examine the biological specimen of a person for the presence of common drugs or their byproducts. It can detect illicit drugs and prescription medication. For initial screenings, many individuals and organisations purchase drug testing kits. They can find kits in physical and online stores. On the other hand, they can also book an appointment for laboratory testing. These facilities also offer confirmatory tests.

The collection procedure of specimens is the initial step in the screening process. Depending on the type of test, a professional will collect a sample. It can be urine samples, saliva samples, blood samples, or hair samples. Accordingly, providers establish a strict chain of custody process to maintain the integrity and reliability of the specimen. It involves proper labelling, documentation, handling and transportation of the specimen.

Once the sample reaches the laboratory for analysis, it undergoes thorough testing to detect substances. The initial screen involves a rapid test. It typically utilises immunoassay analysis methods. This step helps identify samples that may require further confirmation testing. Confirmatory testing uses advanced methods, including gas or liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS or LC-MS). 

Importance in Various Settings

  • Workplaces: It is vital for maintaining a safe work environment. Employers conduct testing to help prevent accidents, injuries, and errors that may occur due to impairment.
  • Healthcare settings: It helps with monitoring patient care medication compliance. This is essential for treatments involving controlled substances or medications with abuse potential. Moreover, screening is a valuable tool for identifying individuals with substance abuse issues. Rehabilitation and treatment centres use screening to monitor the progress of individuals undergoing substance treatment.
  • Legal settings: Law enforcement agencies employ testing to monitor individuals on probation, parole, or involved in drug-related court orders. They also use testing kits to identify driving violations.

A professional collecting saliva samples from a female patient

Types of Methods for Drug Screening

Drug screening methods encompass various specimen types. Foremost, urine drug testing is the most widely utilised approach. This method is cost-effective, non-invasive, and can detect a wide range of substances. Another popular method is the saliva testing. This type offers the advantage of being non-invasive and providing rapid results. Thus, it is suitable for on-site and point-of-care testing.

Furthermore, blood testing involves analysing a blood sample to identify the presence of abused drugs. This method can provide precise detection, making it useful for confirmation tests. Moreover, hair drug testing involves analysing a hair sample. This type offers the longest detection window. It typically spans several months (three months) and provides insight into long-term drug use patterns.

While not typically for drug detection, breath alcohol testing equipment, like breathalysers, are also available. It can detect alcohol consumption by analysing a breath sample. Also, it can measure Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) levels. Ultimately, each method has unique attributes, and selecting a specific method depends on various factors.

Substances That Can Be Detected

The screening is capable of detecting a wide range of substances. Foremost, a drug test can effectively detect the presence of various illicit substances. These may include cocaine metabolites, marijuana (THC), methamphetamine, ecstasy (MDMA), heroin, and Phencyclidine (PCP).

In addition, the screening can identify the presence of prescription medications. Some examples are opioids (oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine), amphetamine drugs (dexamphetamine), and benzodiazepines. Monitoring the use of prescription medications is essential for preventing potential misuse or abuse. Moreover, screening includes the ability to detect ethanol. It is a psychoactive ingredient in alcoholic beverages.

A paper containing the drug test results and a pen, eyeglass, and calculator in the background

Understanding the Results of Drug Screening

Understanding the results of drug screening involves recognising the different terms. A negative result indicates that the screening did not detect the presence of the screened substances in the sample. Typically, professionals see a negative result as the absence of substances. It indicates that the individual has not used those substances within the specified detection window.

Moreover, a non-negative result suggests that the screening yields a result that requires further investigation or confirmatory testing. This term conveys that the initial screening result has shown some indication of the presence of substances. However, it does not conclusively confirm their presence. In this case, additional testing or verification may occur to confirm or refute the preliminary finding.

A positive result indicates that screening has detected the presence of substances in the sample. It provides clear evidence that one or more of the targeted substances were present in the system of the individual at the time of testing. This outcome indicates significant substance use or exposure within the detection window.  Only a laboratory can establish this result.

Implications of a Non-Negative Result

A non-negative result signifies the need for additional investigation or verification. Hence, confirmation testing may occur to establish the presence or absence of substances. The process involves more specific laboratory methods to verify the initial screening result, such as GC-MS.

If the confirmation test provides a positive report, it can have varying consequences depending on the context. For instance, a positive result in the workplace may lead to disciplinary actions. These may include warnings, suspension, or even termination of employment. Moreover, for legal matters, this can affect the standing of the case and may provide evidence to legal practitioners.

Conclusion

Drug screening is a crucial process for ensuring a safe and drug-free environment. It is a method that can detect the presence of substances in a biological sample. The procedure begins with the collection of specimens. Then, in the laboratory, it undergoes a series of tests to identify the presence or absence of substances. Organisations may also use kits, like the SureStep 6-in-1 EZ Split test kit. Testing is a valuable tool in workplaces, medical testing, and law enforcement agencies. 

Furthermore, there are various types of screening methods. These include saliva, blood, hair, urine drug tests, and breath testing for alcohol. Accordingly, these methods can detect a wide range of substances. These may include marijuana, heroin, PCP, MDMA, morphine, benzodiazepines, and ethanol. Understanding the results of the testing is crucial. It involves recognising the significance of terms like negative results, non-negative results, and positive results.

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