Drug Test: Definition, Overview and Types
14 August, 2023
Drug testing is the process of examining the biological sample of a person to detect the presence of drugs or their metabolites. It has become a standard practice in various industries and organisations to ensure safety, integrity, and compliance. It looks for signs of illegal drug use and misuse of prescription drugs and alcohol. Urine drug testing is the standard method, but some may also involve saliva, hair, breath, and blood samples.
Illicit drug use poses significant health and safety concerns to the individual and the public. It can severely impair a person’s physical and mental functioning, leading to accidents, health problems, poor judgement and poor work performance. Thus, many organisations implement testing programs to manage safety risks. This article will present essential information about testing for drugs and alcohol, what to expect in taking the test, and the various types available.
What Is A Drug Test?
A drug test is an examination of the biological sample of a person to check for prohibited substances in the system. It involves collecting a specimen from the individual and then sending it to a laboratory for analysis. An initial screening uses immunoassays to detect drugs quickly. These tests are available through instant test kits, which can give results within minutes.
If the preliminary results indicate drug use, the sample is forwarded to a laboratory for confirmatory tests. It uses advanced techniques, like GC/MS (Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry), to identify and quantify the substances present in the sample accurately. This test is more comprehensive and eliminates the possibility of false positives in earlier screenings.
Furthermore, the test results indicate if a person has consumed an illegal drug within the past days or weeks. A non-negative result means that the test traces the metabolites or by-products of the drug in the system. In addition, detecting drugs depend on the sensitivity of the test method, its cut-off levels, and the detection period of each substance in the system.
Significance and Purpose
Testing for drugs can serve the following purposes:
- Helps employers ensure that workers are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol while on the job.
- Screen job applicants for possible abusive behaviour. It is crucial for work or industries with safety-sensitive nature, such as mining, transportation, and construction.
- Ensures compliance with mandatory drug-testing laws and regulations. Hence, it mitigates legal liabilities.
- Minimises the risks of accidents and injuries.
- Identifies individuals with substance use disorder and prescribes appropriate treatments.
- Monitors patients in rehabilitation centres.
- Confirms if a person has taken drugs after showing symptoms of impairment while driving or working.
What To Expect During a Drug Test?
A drug test typically consists of a few steps: providing consent, collection process, and result review. Individuals may undergo this test as a requirement for pre-employment, medical exams, and workplace monitoring. During the test, the person provides a sample, such as urine, and submits it for analysis. If the screening test result is positive, the specimen undergoes laboratory testing for confirmation.
A medical professional reviews the test results and interprets whether the person has consumed illicit substances or misused a prescription or over-the-counter medicines. While waiting for the final results, an employer or doctor may prohibit the individual from working, driving, or engaging in high-risk activities.
A person who fails the test is subject to disciplinary action or legal consequences. Also, the company may offer treatment assistance to overcome a substance use disorder. Similarly, a job applicant may not be eligible for employment depending on the policies of the organisation. Therefore, it is important to understand the implications of these tests and take the necessary steps to get accurate results.
How To Prepare For Testing
It is vital to follow the instructions given by the doctor or test administrator. To prepare for the test, a person may refrain from eating certain food, drinks, or medication for a few hours. Follow the collection procedure guidelines, including washing hands and other sanitary measures.
Moreover, the person should also disclose any information about prescription medications or herbal supplements to avoid false-positive results. It is also essential to notify the doctor if there are any medical conditions or allergies that could affect test outcomes. Some people may use test kits at home to ensure they are clear from any drugs.
Different Types of Drug Tests
Various methods can detect drugs of abuse in the system. One of the most common types is the urine drug test. A urine sample can trace a wide range of substances for extended periods. It is a popular form of screening because it is fast, reliable, and affordable. The sample can also be used for a retest.
The second type is the oral fluid test. It involves collecting a saliva sample from the mouth with a swab. This test can detect drug use within the last few hours to two days. It is also non-invasive and less expensive than other tests. However, it can trace a limited range of substances than urine.
The third type is the hair test, which can detect drugs used up to three months prior. It requires a small hair sample close to the scalp for laboratory testing. Moreover, the blood test gives the most accurate results. However, it is intrusive and costly. Employers may use this test after an initial positive result. Lastly, a breath test is specific for alcohol screening. A breathalyser measures Blood Alcohol Content or the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream.
What Can Be Detected?
Drug screening tests can detect common drugs of abuse, like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, opioids, and alcohol. It may also include prescription and over-the-counter medications. The substances it can detect depend on the type of test. Additionally, test kits for urine and saliva contain several panels that look for specific drugs.
The length of time it stays on the system depends on the amount of consumption and frequency of drug use. Drug metabolites last longer for a person who consumes them regularly. However, professionals advise that a positive result may not necessarily mean a person is under impairment at the time of the test.
A drug test is useful for employers and medical professionals to screen individuals for substance use or abuse. The process involves obtaining samples such as urine, saliva, hair, and blood for analysis. Then, it uses immunoassays to detect illicit drugs or alcohol and gives the results in seconds. If the initial screen indicates drug use, the sample requires laboratory testing for validation. These procedures help organisations ensure safety, reduce accidents, and make informed decisions.
The test can detect a wide range of drug classes, especially the most abused drugs like cocaine, marijuana, and amphetamines. Moreover, it is important to follow the instructions of the administrator and prepare thoroughly for the test. A person may inform the testing officer of any prescribed or OTC medications or medical conditions. This helps eliminate the possibility of false positives and ensures the integrity of the results. Overall, it is reliable and efficient in assessing drug use.