Is There Such a Thing as Instant Drug and Alcohol Testing?
01 May, 2023
Police officers monitor signs of driving under the influence in routine inspections. Determining if a driver is impaired on the spot is vital to prevent potential road accidents. Hence, authorities conduct instant drug and alcohol testing to confirm if illicit substances are involved. These tests analyse biological specimens to detect significant amounts of drugs and alcohol in the system. As the name suggests, they are rapid tests that give results at the point of collection.
Instant testing is efficient in situations needing immediate outcomes. Aside from roadside screening, it is also valuable in workplaces. It enables companies to perform a test without going to a laboratory. Additionally, it utilises portable tools that anyone can easily use. Various devices can help identify substance use, such as urine test kits and breath analysers. This article will talk about how rapid drug and alcohol test works, their methods, and their applications.
How Instant Drug and Alcohol Testing Works
Drugs and alcohol are substances rapidly absorbed in the body from the stomach to the liver and the bloodstream. Mainly, the liver metabolises drugs where they exit the system through urine. The enzymes that process drugs in the liver produce an altered substance called metabolites. The metabolites may be inactive and stay in the body long after the parent drug is gone. Thus, instant drug and alcohol testing can detect drugs or their metabolites for a limited period.
Instant test kits use immunoassays to process the specimen and give qualitative results after five minutes. It can show a non-negative outcome if it detects drugs. However, it does not measure the amount. Additionally, as per AS 4308 requirements, an initial non-negative result need confirmatory testing at an accredited laboratory for validation. Lab testing determines the actual level of a drug and confirms if the usage is therapeutic or recreational.
Furthermore, instant drug and alcohol testing can detect common drug abuse, such as amphetamines, marijuana, cocaine, opiates, PCP, and benzodiazepines. The substances that can appear on a drug screen depend on the number of panels available. On the other hand, a breathalyser is used to measure Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). It is a portable device that processes the breath sample and gives the results within seconds.
Advantages and Disadvantages
- Deliver the results in minutes
- Portable and convenient for on-site testing
- More affordable than lab services
- Available for purchase without prescription
- Only give a pass/fail reading
- The result should not be interpreted after ten minutes
- Limited testing capability, depending on the drug panel configuration
- Failed tests need confirmation
Instant Drug and Alcohol Testing Methods
Most instant drug and alcohol testing uses urine, oral fluid, and breath samples. Urine can trace drugs and metabolites for up to 48 hours. Moreover, the detection window depends on the amount taken, time of last use, and frequency. In particular, substances stay in the system longer for chronic users. Additionally, a urine test is the standard screening method for most workplaces since it is less intrusive than a blood test.
A mouth swab test is a cost-efficient alternative to urine. It involves swabbing the inside of the mouth with an absorbent collection stick. Substances can show up in oral fluids within 5 to 24 hours. Therefore, it can detect recent drug exposure or consumption. The sample collection is less invasive and in plain view of the administrator. Thus, it minimises the possibility of adulteration or tampering. The samples are also easy to transport to a lab for further analysis.
Moreover, a breath test is efficient for alcohol screening. A breathalyser device captures the breath sample and examines it through its sensors. Then, the sensors undergo a chemical reaction process to quantify the blood alcohol levels and convert them into the BAC value. Alcohol quickly absorbs in the body and reaches the lungs. Hence, a breathalyser can trace alcohol after 15 minutes up to 24 hours. Unlike instant drug and alcohol test kits, a breathalyser can give quantitative output.
Advantages of Breath Alcohol Test
- non-invasive sample collection method
- the subject can easily provide a sample
- can estimate the BAC levels accurately
- a non-professional can obtain the results quickly
- breathalysers are portable
- fuel cell sensors are specific to ethanol and do not react to other substances
- enables multiple retests
- no risk of harm or infection
Applications of Instant Drug and Alcohol Testing
Instant drug and alcohol testing is useful in various settings. It is cost-efficient in roadside and workplace screening, as well as in treatment monitoring. Road safety in Australia includes routine drug and alcohol inspections to determine a driving violation. It is prohibited to operate a motor vehicle with drugs or alcohol content exceeding the legal limits. Showing positive results in roadside screening requires evidential testing and is subject to penalties.
High-risk industries also implement drug and alcohol screening to monitor substance use or employee impairment. Workplace monitoring is essential to minimise safety hazards and prevent accidents. Likewise, private companies set up a workplace policy to administer drug and alcohol tests under reasonable grounds. Moreover, most workplaces execute these tests under strict guidelines, such as pre-employment, post-incident, random, and reasonable suspicion. Thus, it can help identify employees posing risks or those with substance abuse.
Lastly, treatment or rehabilitation centres facilitate instant drug and alcohol testing to monitor the patient’s recovery. It mainly uses urine, oral fluid, and breath tests for regular screening to help prevent relapse. However, other methods, such as blood and hair follicle tests, are suitable for varying circumstances. For instance, a blood test provides the most accurate analysis, while a hair test can trace substance use or consumption pattern for months.
Benefits of Workplace Testing
- improves workplace health and safety
- prevents accidents or property damage
- reduces high costs
- complies with laws and regulations
- mitigates legal risks through a policy
- decreases absenteeism and turnover rates
- recognises an employee with a disorder to refer them for appropriate treatment
- prevents hiring candidates with abusive or risky behaviours
Instant drug and alcohol testing is valuable to help keep individuals safe. It is common in public settings like roadside and workplaces to help prevent untoward incidents. Additionally, it is cost-efficient, reliable, and gives rapid results. Hence, authorities can make appropriate decisions. In particular, individuals charged with drug and alcohol driving offences can incur heavy fines, imprisonment, license disqualification, probation, and an alcohol interlock order. Similarly, employees may face disciplinary sanctions following a positive test result.
Companies use AS-certified test kits and breathalysers for reliable and accurate results. However, rapid test kits for urine and oral fluid can only give qualitative output. Thus, it requires laboratory analysis for confirmation. Furthermore, testing agencies adhere to Australian Standards when collecting, storing, and transporting specimen samples. Individuals may use a personal breathalyser like BACtrack from Breathalysers Australia to monitor their BAC level and avoid severe impairment during alcohol consumption.