Lab Drug And Alcohol Test: What It Is, Types, And Results
16 November, 2023
A laboratory or lab drug and alcohol test is the analysis of biological samples to detect the presence of illicit drugs or alcohol. It uses several types of detection methods, such as urine, oral fluid, hair, blood, and breath sampling. Hence, it can identify if a person has been using prohibited substances within a period of time. It can also determine if an individual has substance abuse issues. In addition, it uses advanced procedures for the most accurate results.
Drug and alcohol abuse is a prevalent issue in society, affecting individuals of all ages and backgrounds. This has also caused trouble in many workplaces, leading to conflicts, low productivity, and accidents. To address this problem and manage the risks, organisations implement a drug and alcohol testing program. This article will present the essentials of laboratory testing, the types of test methods, and the accuracy of results.
What is a Lab Drug and Alcohol Test
A lab drug and alcohol test is a type of medical diagnostic assessment used to detect prohibited substances in the body. It involves collecting a sample and testing it in a laboratory using advanced equipment. This method is usually more accurate and reliable than other procedures, like instant screening test kits or immunoassay devices.
A common method used is gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GC-MS). It is considered the gold standard in drug testing due to its high sensitivity and accuracy. This method separates the molecular components of the sample to identify specific drug classes. Moreover, it can trace very low concentrations of substances.
It is valuable in various settings, including workplaces, legal proceedings, and healthcare. Employers may require prospective or current employees to undergo this test as part of pre-employment screening or random drug testing. They are also important in custody battles or probation monitoring to ensure compliance with drug and alcohol restrictions. Lastly, healthcare professionals use it to assess substance use histories and determine appropriate treatment plans.
Common Substances Tested For
- Amphetamines – also known as “uppers”, this type of drug increases alertness but is highly addictive.
- Marijuana – one of the most common recreational drugs. It includes testing for THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). The abuse of marijuana may lead to anxiety, paranoia, and depression.
- Phencyclidine (PCP) – also known as “angel dust’, this substance is a powerful hallucinogenic drug.
- Cocaine – a powerful stimulant drug that can lead to paranoia, restlessness, extreme anxiety, and hallucinations.
- Opioids – heroin, codeine, and morphine are strong painkillers that can be highly addictive when taken for extended periods or in large doses.
- Ethanol – the main ingredient in alcoholic beverages that can have severe impairing effects.
Types of Lab Drug and Alcohol Tests
Lab drug and alcohol tests use several methods. The most common one is urine drug testing. It looks for the presence of alcohol or drug metabolites, which are detectable in urine samples for up to 72 hours after consumption. The second type is saliva testing, which can detect substance use within a shorter detection window of 12 to 24 hours.
Moreover, breath testing can detect alcohol in the system for up to 24 hours. An alcohol breathalyser device also measures Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC), or the amount of alcohol in the body. This test is non-invasive and provides quick results. Additionally, hair drug testing can trace substance use for up to 90 days after ingestion. It is suitable for determining the consumption history of a person.
Lastly, blood testing is one of the most accurate methods. It can detect drugs and alcohol within 6 to 12 hours after consumption. Due to its high accuracy rate, the results are admissible in court. However, this test is costly, invasive, and time-consuming.
Specimen Collection Process
The specimen collection process follows a strict chain of custody to ensure the accuracy of the results. For the urine test, it involves obtaining the sample in a sterile container cup. The saliva collection procedure requires swabbing the inside of the mouth with an absorbent stick.
On the other hand, a breath alcohol screening captures the exhaled breath through its mouthpiece. Meanwhile, the hair test involves cutting a few strands of hair from the crown. Lastly, the blood test draws the sample from the arms using an injection. The collector must ensure the proper handling and storage before sending it to a laboratory for testing.
Accuracy of Results of a Lab Drug and Alcohol Test
Lab drug and alcohol tests provide the highest accuracy among other testing methods. Firstly, it follows strict laboratory standards, including sample collection, handling, and storage. Qualified personnel obtain the sample in a precise and controlled manner. Secondly, laboratories use advanced and highly sensitive equipment to analyse the samples with utmost accuracy.
Secondly, laboratories are compliant with regulatory bodies, such as the Australian Standards and the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA). Accredited collection centres undergo regular audits to ensure the procedures for specimen collection and analysis are exact and up to date. This sets the standards for the cut-off levels of each drug class or what constitutes a positive result.
Lastly, the test undergoes several stages to ensure its reliability. It involves complex processes and can give a more comprehensive analysis or details of the results. Thus, it often has a longer turnaround time than rapid tests. The results of a laboratory test are often admissible in court. For instance, a positive drug result can have serious consequences in workplaces or court.
Is There a Possibility of a False Positive
Despite its reliability, false positives may occur in alcohol and drug testing. Various factors may affect the test outcome. One example is the intake of OTC or prescribed drugs. This may trigger a positive drug result when the laboratory detects similar compounds in the biological samples.
Additionally, exposure to external contaminants may lead to false positives. This includes second-hand marijuana smoke and alcohol-containing products. Moreover, certain medical conditions may interfere with the test, such as diabetes, liver disease, and kidney failure. This is because they may possess a higher amount of metabolites. Therefore, confirmatory testing is important to validate the initial drug screening.
Lab and drug alcohol tests provide accurate and reliable results when it comes to detecting illicit substances in the system. This test uses advanced laboratory equipment and technology to identify the amount of drugs. It can detect a wide array of substances, including the common drugs of abuse, such as marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamines. Furthermore, laboratories use urine, hair, breath, blood, and saliva samples to analyse the presence of substances in the body.
Clinical labs also follow a chain of custody procedure to ensure the accuracy of the results. However, there is a possibility of false positives due to certain factors. These factors include prescription medications, medical conditions, and external contaminants. Thus, it is vital to inform the collector of any medications or medical conditions before the test. In addition, confirmatory testing is necessary to avoid false positives. Lastly, clinics follow testing standards set by regulatory bodies.