Beyond urine drug testing – oral fluid drug testing, hair drug testing and more.
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Over the past three decades, the science behind the technology of urine, hair and oral fluid drug testing has come a long way. Today’s employers often implement multiple testing methods, choosing which method is best based on each testing circumstance.
Following are the key attributes of each of the three major testing methods and what circumstances they align with best.
Lab-based urine drug testing has been in common use for more than 30 years and is the only testing method currently permitted by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). All 50 states permit lab-based urine testing and some states require it in certain industries.
Urine samples can be tested for virtually any drug and professional services are competitive compared to other testing methods. The window of detection is generally 3-4 days, though drugs are not immediately detectable after usage.
The urine collection process has some inherent challenges. Observed collections, which are required in some situations, require matching the gender of the collector and the donor which is not always possible on short notice. Also, urine testing is subject to a variety of cheating methods, including substitute urine samples, false body parts to use to fake urination, and various additives that can be used to mask the presence of drugs in a sample. As such, myriad precautions must be taken at collection sites to ensure the integrity of the sample such as turning off hot water in the restrooms, putting blue dye in the toilet water, and inspecting samples for additives and proper temperature.
An alternative to lab-based urine testing is point-of-collection (POCT) urine testing, which produces an immediate yes or no result. POCT testing is not permitted by DOT and some states either restrict or prohibit its use for workplace testing.
Urine testing aligns particularly well with random, follow-up and return-to-duty testing. It is also good for pre-employment testing in states that have not legalized marijuana.
Hair testing is a lab-based method that produces a quantitative result. The window of detection is up to 90 days, but drugs are not detectable for about 7 days post-use. Although scientifically sound, there is no SAMHSA lab certification for hair testing. Hair testing is not permitted for DOT-mandated testing and is restricted in several states.
Hair sample collections can take place anywhere and undergo a two-step testing process to ensure accurate results. Hair samples should be taken directly from a person’s head whenever possible and should be at least 1.5 inches long. Collections are considered generally non-invasive. Hair testing is considered a lifestyle drug test – if an employee briefly abstains from drug use, the test will not be impacted. Adulteration of a hair sample is difficult.
Hair testing is typically more expensive than other testing methodologies. It does not detect recent use and can require a longer processing time from collection to results.
Hair testing is ideal in return-to-duty and follow-up circumstances. Additionally, some safety-sensitive industries may choose to hair test in all circumstances in order to observe lifestyle.
Oral Fluid Testing
Oral fluid testing can be either lab-based or POCT. Oral fluid is the best specimen to detect recent use, with drugs being detectable within minutes of ingestion and remaining detectable for several hours up to 2-3 days depending on the drug. SAMHSA has recently issued guidance for lab-based oral fluid testing and DOT is expected to follow.
Oral fluid samples can take place anywhere and do not require the use of restrooms or toilet stalls. The collection process is so easy compared to other samples that employees can be trained to self-collect or observe others during the collection process. Oral fluid samples are nearly impossible to adulterate and are generally considered the best method for marijuana detection in states where cannabis is legal.
Currently, only three states prohibit lab-based oral fluid testing while several states place restrictions on it depending on the industry.
Oral fluid is ideal for pre-employment testing in states where marijuana is legal. Additionally, oral fluid aligns well with post-accident, reasonable suspicion, random, and pre-access testing circumstances.
Today’s employers should consider combining testing methods in order to ensure their needs are met based on each specific testing circumstance. Consult state laws and federal regulations carefully to ensure compliance.
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Contact National Drug Screening for more information and to set up a drug testing program.