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Lab Drug Test: The Different Types of Testing Services Available

26 January, 2024

People sitting and waiting inside the medical facility

A lab drug test detects the presence of drugs or other substances in the human body. Different testing services, such as oral fluid, urine, blood, and hair tests, offer valuable information about drug use. These tests are beneficial in settings like employment screenings or criminal investigations. Typically, a trained collector gathers the sample and transports it to the lab for analysis. The centre will then send the results after two to four days.

Drug and alcohol misuse is a widespread issue in multiple countries. It causes impairments that can significantly affect physical and cognitive capabilities. This can have various consequences for individuals, impacting themselves and those around them. Many organisations address this problem and manage the risks by implementing a drug testing program. This article will provide information about a laboratory drug test, including the types of methods and the procedures.

What is a Lab Drug Testing?

A lab drug test is a medical diagnostic assessment that detects prohibited substances in the body. The process includes collecting a sample and analysing it in a laboratory using sophisticated equipment. This method is typically more accurate and reliable than other procedures, such as instant screening test kits or immunoassay devices.

A commonly used method used is Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS). It is widely regarded as the gold standard in drug testing due to its exceptional sensitivity and accuracy. This method separates the molecular components of the sample to identify specific drug classes accurately. Moreover, it can trace very low concentrations of substances.

It holds value in diverse settings, including workplaces, legal proceedings, and healthcare. Employers may request prospective or current employees to take this test as part of pre-employment screening or random drug testing. They are also significant in custody battles or probation monitoring to ensure adherence to drug and alcohol restrictions. Lastly, healthcare professionals use it to assess substance use histories and determine appropriate treatment plans.

Importance

  • Companies can ensure workplace safety by regularly conducting tests for employees in safety-sensitive positions.
  • While rapid tests provide quick results, lab tests offer a more thorough and conclusive analysis. Professionals often use lab tests for confirmatory testing.
  • Employers can create a productive workplace by including testing in their drug and alcohol policy.
  • Law enforcement may rely on laboratory testing results as evidence for legal purposes. This includes court proceedings for drink driving or child custody.
  • Lab tests maintain a strict chain of custody, documenting the handling of the samples from collection to analysis. This ensures the accuracy of the results.

A professional conducting a swab test on male individual

Types of Methods in a Lab Drug Testing

There are several methods for conducting lab drug tests. Firstly, the oral fluid testing. This technique involves a saliva collection procedure to detect various substances. Usually, It can find traces of drugs or alcohol for up to 12 hours after use.

Secondly, the urine drug test. It uses urine samples to identify a broad range of substances. Generally, urine tests can detect drugs or alcohol for about 24 hours. However, this period can be lengthier for people who use substances regularly. Thirdly, the blood test offers high accuracy. It measures the drugs or their by-products in the blood sample.

Lastly, hair follicle drug testing provides a long history of drug and alcohol use. By analysing hair samples, this method can trace substance use for up to 90 days. However, it is necessary to note that this test cannot detect substances used within seven days before the sample collection. This limitation is due to the nature of hair growth. Overall, the choice of method depends on the specific needs and circumstances of the testing situation.

Detectable Substances

Laboratory screening is capable of detecting a wide range of substances. This may include various drug classes, such as marijuana, cocaine, opioids, prescription medications, methamphetamines, and amphetamine substances. Additionally, this can indicate the presence of synthetic drugs. This may involve the use of synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinone.

The testing can also monitor substances like ecstasy, ketamine, and performance-enhancing medications. Additionally, the lab drug screening can detect the presence of ethanol, an active ingredient in most alcoholic drinks. Abusing these substances can lead to impairment, medical issues, poor coordination, and unwanted effects. Hence, the testing enables a broad spectrum of screening substances.

Three professionals conducting a laboratory test

Process in a Lab Drug Testing

During a lab drug test, the individual must follow a specific procedure to ensure accurate and reliable results. Firstly, they must provide a biological sample, depending on the type of test. Trained professionals conduct the collection and follow strict protocols to gather an adequate sample.

Next, the staff at the collection centre transports the biological specimens to the laboratory for analysis. In that location, they utilise various equipment and drug test panels to determine the presence or absence of drugs. Initial testing often uses immunoassay tests to find traces of substances in the specimen. For further testing, the lab can use GC-MS. It is considered the gold standard for testing.

After the confirmation of the results, the lab will create a report. This can take two to four days, depending on the service provider. The turnaround time may vary depending on the complexity of the analysis needed. Non-negative results from an initial screening typically necessitate a confirmation test for result verification.

Are There Risks for False-Positive Results?

False positives can occur in alcohol and drug testing despite its reliability. Several factors can influence the outcome of the test. One example is the use of over-the-counter medicines or prescription drugs. This can potentially cause a positive drug result if the laboratory detects similar compounds in the biological samples.

Furthermore, exposure to external contaminants can result in inaccurate positive results. This includes exposure to second-hand marijuana smoke and products that contain alcohol. Additionally, certain medical conditions can affect the test results, such as diabetes, liver disease, and kidney failure. This is because they may contain a greater quantity of metabolites.

Conclusion

Lab drug testing is a crucial tool for detecting a wide range of substances, from common drugs to synthetic variants and alcohol. It employs various methods like oral fluid, urine, blood, and hair follicle tests, each with unique detection capabilities. This testing is essential in different fields, including employment, legal cases, and healthcare, to ensure safety and compliance. Its accuracy and reliability make it vital in maintaining a drug-free environment in different sectors.

While laboratory drug tests are generally reliable, false positives can still occur. Factors like certain medications, exposure to contaminants, or specific medical conditions can influence the results. These issues highlight the importance of confirmatory testing, such as using GC-MS, to ensure accuracy. Individuals must be aware of these potential influences and communicate any relevant information to the testing personnel. This approach helps obtain the most precise and trustworthy results from drug testing procedures.

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