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Video Blog: Turnaround Times For Drug Testing

A question we often get is about turnaround times for drug testing results meaning how long it will take for a person to get their results. Many times people want to receive results right away. in some areas of the country and in certain circumstances this is possible; it is called an instant, rapid, or POCT test.

There is a but, though…as long as the result is a clear negative, you will receive most results the same day. If there is an issue with the testing, however, or if it’s a non-negative on the initial screen of the specimen, it will still need to go to the laboratory for confirmation testing and possibly to a medical review officer if the lab confirms the specimen as a positive result.

What about turnaround times for lab-based tests? For negative test results, the result is typically available in less than 24 hours from being received at the laboratory. There are circumstances they may affect how long the specimen takes to arrive at the lab and there are several things that go into turnaround times even after the lab receives it. First, when was the collection done? When was it overnight shipped to the laboratory? When did the lab receive it? Was confirmation or additional testing needed? Was a review by the medical review officer required? Was the verification of a prescription needed? All of these affect how quickly a test result is released.

Many employers ask for an exact timeframe but should know that it is not realistic. Most specimens are shipped overnight to the lab but if collected late in the day, they may not be shipped until the following day. Here is an example. If you have a drug test that is collected in the morning, it’s shipped out that day to the lab; the lab receives it between 4 am and 8 am the next day, and once received, the lab starts the testing. If the initial screen is a negative result and they’re not missing anything, then that result is released that same day, maybe the same morning. In literally less than 24 hours, you may have that negative result.

What happens though, if that initial screen at the laboratory is non-negative, meaning that something tested positive or there was something missing on the custody and control form? Then the specimen will go to confirmation testing the following day or if missing needed information the testing will be delayed until the memorandum of record or missing information is provided. For confirmation testing, allow 48 to 72 hours for most tests. If you have tests that include expanded panels, there may be multiple confirmations required.

Once a drug test is confirmed at the laboratory, meaning they have a verified and legally defensible result, then they will release that to the medical review officer who will either release a confirmed negative result or begin the process of contacting the individual who was tested if the lab result was positive. If there is a positive test, donor contact is going to be required to confirm any prescriptions or to determine if there is a legitimate medical Explanation of the positive test result.

This seems pretty straight forward but what could happen that may take five or six days to get back a negative test? Here is one example. A test is done on a Friday afternoon after the FedEx or the courier had already left the facility. Monday is a holiday and no one is available to ship the specimen over the weekend. the specimen then gets shipped out to the laboratory on Tuesday and the laboratory receives it on Wednesday and they test it. The specimen screens positive for one or more drugs and this requires confirmation testing which begins the following day. This means that a whole week passes and there is no result; this is a completely legitimate situation. say the MRO gets the result Friday and begins contacting the individual. This could take 1 to 5 days. This is an unusual situation but this and other situations like this do happen.

Whenever you are conducting drug testing or sending someone for a drug test, you must be aware of things that may affect the timing of the testing and the timing of the results. There are times that certain laboratories may be located in areas that get snowed in or other types of storms and they are forced to temporarily close or reduce staff. Most results, negative results, 85 to 90%, should be released within 24 to 48 hours if everything is done correctly. But, there are variables that may delay testing so keep in communication with your providers and know that most want to get the results to you as soon as possible and will work to make that happen.