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Drug Testing Cutoff Levels Australia: Overview and the Purpose of Cutoff Levels

22 February, 2024

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Drug testing is a common practice in many industries, including transportation, healthcare, and law enforcement. It helps maintain safe roads and workplaces by preventing accidents from drug impairment. The drug testing cutoff levels in Australia are the set minimum concentration of substances present in the specimen. Their purpose is to set a standard for laboratory testing facilities and drug test kit manufacturers. It aims to distinguish secondhand exposure effectively from actual drug use.

Impaired employees can cause accidents that endanger those in the workplace. They also have low productivity and may cause social tensions, lowering morale. Meanwhile, drug driving is prohibited because of the lowered coordination, loss of sound judgment, and slower reaction times. This is why workplaces and law enforcement agencies conduct tests. This article will provide an overview of testing cutoff levels, their purposes, and the factors influencing them.

Overview of Drug Testing Cutoff Levels in Australia

The drug testing cutoff levels in Australia refer to the minimum concentration of a drug or its metabolites that must be present in a sample to be considered non-negative or positive. Organisations, like Standards Australia and the Department of Health, establish these to differentiate between incidental exposure and actual illicit drug use.

Various organisations conduct drug and alcohol testing to ensure the safety of the workplace and the general public. These are crucial for identifying people with substance use disorders and providing interventions so they can be treated. They also aid law enforcement with charging those participating in drink or drug driving. Hence, cutoff levels are crucial for ensuring accurate results.

The commonly used drug screening methods are urine drug testing and oral fluid drug testing. These can be done using drug test kits or in a testing facility. The proper procedures, including cutoff levels, are outlined in the Australian/New Zealand Standards (AZ/NZS). For urine testing, it is AS/NZS 4308: 2023. Meanwhile, it is AS/NZS 4760:2019 for oral fluid testing.

Cutoff Levels for Different Drugs

Immunoassay urine screening tests

  • 300 ng/ml: Amphetamine and Opiates
  • 200 ng/ml: Benzodiazepines
  • 50 ng/ml: Cannabis
  • 150 ng/ml: Cocaine

Cutoff levels for urine drug confirmation tests

  • 150 ng/ml: Amphetamines and Methylamphetamine
  • 500 ng/ml: Benzylpiperazine, Phentermine, and Pseudoephedrine
  • 100 ng/ml: Diazepam, Nodizepam, Oxazepam, Benzoylecgonine, Ecgonine methyl ester, and A-hydroxyl-alprazolam.
  • 15 ng/ml: 11-nor-delta 9 and Tetrahydrocannabinol-9-Carboxylic acid
  • 300 ng/ml: Codeine and Morphine
  • 10 ng/ml: 6-Acetylmorphine

Immunoassay oral fluid testing

  • 50 ng/ml: Amphetamine, Cocaine, Opiates
  • 15 ng/ml: Cannabis
  • 40 ng/ml: Oxycodone

Cutoff levels for saliva drug confirmation tests

  • 25 ng/ml: Amphetamines, Methylamphetamine, Cocaine Metabolites, Benzoylecgonine, Ecgonine methyl ester, Codeine, Morphine, and Opiates
  • 5 ng/ml: Benzylpiperazine, Phentermine, and Tetrahydrocannabinol-9-Carboxylic acid

A medical professional explaining the results of a test

Purpose of Drug Testing Cutoff Levels in Australia

Drug testing cutoff levels in Australia serve vital purposes in ensuring accurate and reliable results. Firstly, it sets definitive thresholds for laboratory companies to manufacture reliable drug testing kits. The drug testing levels also guide confirmatory drug testing in laboratories. This allows them to effectively distinguish actual drug use, reducing causes of initial non-negative (positive) results. This is crucial to protect individuals from undue consequences.

Secondly, a set cutoff level for each substance standardises the drug screening procedures in Australia drug testing. This ensures consistency across different testing facilities. This allows individuals and organisations to determine whether they have quality products. Furthermore, contacting accredited facilities can provide peace of mind. Also, the standard makes interpretation easier even when using different kits or testing centres.

Lastly, the Australian standard cutoff levels provide fair drug screening test outcomes that accurately identify those with substance use disorders. This helps organisations, such as healthcare facilities and companies, to provide intervention and treatment. Overall, they can help reduce errors in interpretation and ensure reliable outcomes.

Implications of Exceeding the Cutoff Levels

Exceeding the cutoff levels during a drug test will show a non-negative or positive result. This can have severe implications, especially during workplace drug screening or screening for legal purposes. A negative result is crucial for attaining a good outcome when the testing is for legal proceedings, such as child custody battles or probation hearings.

In the workplace, a positive result can lead to disciplinary measures. This can vary depending on their company policy. Examples of the potential penalties are suspensions, demotions, or termination. In addition, companies can make it a mandatory requirement for potential employees during the hiring process.

A man slumped over a table with pills and an alcoholic beverage near him

Factors Influencing Drug Testing Cutoff Levels in Australia

Several factors influence the drug testing cutoff levels in Australia. The type of drug is one of the foremost considerations. There are varying levels depending on the substances consumed. Furthermore, confirmatory testing also takes into account cross-reactivities with different substances. Individuals and organisations can refer to tables listing the specific amounts.

Another consideration is the type of testing method used. The drug screening cutoff levels with urine samples differ from oral fluid specimens. This is because different body specimens have varying drug metabolites and absorption rates. They also have drug detection windows, which are crucial to take note of when conducting testing.

Lastly, individual factors such as metabolism rate, hydration level, and frequency of drug use can also impact cutoff levels. Hence, individuals need to be aware of how these factors can affect their drug test results. It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional or drug testing facility when taking prescription medications that may interfere with the results due to drug interactions.

Sensitivity and Specificity Requirements

In Australia, drug tests must meet sensitivity and specificity requirements for reliable and accurate results. Sensitivity refers to the ability of the test to identify individuals who have used the drugs. On the other hand, specificity measures the ability to determine whether an individual has not consumed illegal drugs correctly.

Hence, drug testing kits and testing facilities must meet these requirements to meet the set standards. This is why manufacturers of drug testing kits provide specific guidelines for usage and list out the limitations of the products. Moreover, laboratories frequently use advanced equipment to ensure they meet these requirements during analysis.

Conclusion

Drug testing cutoff levels in Australia are set by organisations to accurately differentiate illicit drug use and accidental exposure. Individuals may view them by checking the relevant standards for the testing methods. The common procedures are saliva and urine tests. Urine testing falls under AS/NZS 4308:2023. Meanwhile, AS/NZS 4760:2019 covers saliva screening. By using testing kits and contacting service providers following these standards, individuals can have peace of mind regarding the accuracy and reliability of the results.

The purpose of the cutoff levels is to provide definitive thresholds during analysis and reduce false positives. They also aim to make testing consistent across Australia, making interpretation easier for everyone. With these standard cutoff levels, organisations can identify employees who have violated the drug and alcohol policy. However, they must also consider the factors that affect the levels, such as the types of substances and the testing method.

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