Last updated: June 5, 2023
A 12 panel drug test is far more extensive than the one required by the Department of Transportation for DOT drug testing. They require a standard 5 panel test with an extended opiate panel.
The 12 panel drug test identifies amphetamines, propoxyphene, cocaine, barbiturates, methadone, benzodiazepines, marijuana (THC), opiates, hydrocodone, phencyclidine (PCP), Percocet/Oxycodone, and Ecstasy/MDMA.
Employers, hiring managers, and human resource professionals who are not bound by DOT regulations can conduct non-DOT drug testing. Employers who use a 12 panel drug test, do so because they’re cost-effective, comprehensive, and detect most drugs commonly abused today.
The 12 panel drug test easily applies to the mouth swab, urine, and hair follicle drug tests. The tests all provide accurate results, but their differences may sway your decision toward using one over the others.
Mouth swab drug test
Advances in mouth swab testing technology have made these cost-effective tests very reliable. In fact, the HHS (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) approved the use of the oral fluid drug test as an option for all federally mandated employee drug testing programs. The guidelines were released at the end of October and go into effect on January 1, 2020.
Oral fluid tests detect most drugs within minutes of use and for up to seventy-two hours prior to taking the test. This makes them a popular choice for random drug testing programs. They’re also being used more frequently by police agencies when suspecting drug impairment during routine traffic stops and post-accident situations.
The test involves placing a mouth swab between the lower cheek and gum. It requires no privacy, therefore, the test subject never leaves the collector’s sight making it impossible to substitute or tamper with the sample.
Urine drug test
The most widely used drug test on the market, the urine drug test currently accounts for over 90% of the 55 million employee drug tests submitted each year. That, of course, is largely due to the fact that the urine test has always been the only approved testing method by the DOT and other federal entities who require employee drug testing.
The urine test is cost-effective and, thanks to evolving technology, has become increasingly capable of detecting adulterated specimens. It’s becoming more and more difficult for employees to falsify test results when taking a urine test.
However, the privacy required for sample collection raises the concern of “cheating” by substituting or adulterating test samples. This is one of the reasons the HHS approved the use of the oral fluid test for federally mandated drug testing programs.
Hair follicle drug test
The hair follicle drug test is easily the least intrusive test method. A quick snip close to the scalp with a pair of scissors and the test is complete. It costs more than the urine or mouth swab tests. However, these tests are extremely accurate and the fact that they offer a 90-day detection period for any and all drug use outweighs the cost factor for many employers.
Drug metabolites store themselves throughout the body until excreted. Those that wind up in the hair follicle exit the body by growing out into the center of the hair shaft. They become a part of the hair itself leaving a permanent record of drug use.
It’s estimated that human hair grows about one-half inch per month. The standard hair length for testing is one and one-half inches, thus, the 90-day window. However, laboratories are sometimes requested to test for longer periods of time. They can accommodate the request by increasing the length of hair for testing.
Claims that certain shampoos or homemade concoctions can remove drug metabolites from the hair are false. However, we’ll note here that it takes a couple of days for the metabolites to grow out into the hair. So, if someone had just used drugs for the first time a day or two prior to the test, it won’t be detected.
Other than that exception, though, if you’ve used drugs within the past 90 days, you’re not passing the test.
Choosing to use a SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Services Administration) certified laboratory to analyze your employee drug tests ensures that you’re using the best. SAMHSA approved laboratories are held to the highest standards and undergo frequent inspections to maintain their certification.
The majority of drug tests are negative. Test specimens undergo an immunoassay test (IA) first, commonly referred to as the initial screen. The immunoassay test is a cost-effective drug test that determines a simple positive or negative result. Those specimens testing positive go on for confirmation testing.
The gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) test both confirms the IA test and identifies the level of the drug(s) found in the sample.
No matter which method you decide to use for the 12 panel drug test, the results are read in the same manner.
- Positive—A positive result indicates drug detection.
- Negative—A negative result indicates no drug detection.
- Inconclusive—An inconclusive result indicates neither a positive or negative result.
Inconclusive results are rare in the case of the hair follicle and mouth swab tests, however, human error on the part of the collection specialist is possible from time to time. The mouth swab test may yield an inconclusive result should the test subject have tried to falsify the result using some sort of adulterant.
Urine tests yield the highest number of inconclusive results for varied reasons.
- Adulterants found within the specimen
- Synthetic urine substituted in place of the specimen
- Diluted specimens
- Human error
Diluted urine specimens
One of the most widely heard myths regarding “how to pass a drug test” is simply to drink water. Lots of water. Supposedly, drinking large amounts of water will cleanse the body of any drug metabolites, however, when the urine contains too much water it throws things out of balance throwing a red flag on the test.
There are two dilute test results.
- Negative dilute—A negative dilute test result indicates that there were no drugs detected in the urine, but the specimen was diluted. Many employers automatically view a negative dilute as a possible attempt to cheat the test. A second test may be allowed, but if the test is diluted again, there won’t be a third chance.
- Positive dilute—A positive dilute result indicates drug detection and a diluted sample. Employers follow company protocol in place regarding a positive drug test result.
Why do detection periods vary?
The length of time that drug metabolites remain in the system is drug-specific. And, it makes sense that the amount of the drug taken and the frequency of use play a part. Sometimes, different types of the same drug are identifiable for various lengths of time as well.
Moreover, other factors determine how long drugs are identified in the body.
- Genetics—Our DNA determines the way our body processes the things we ingest. Some people metabolize things faster than others.
- Age—Young people tend to metabolize things faster than older people.
- Body mass—Drug metabolites store themselves in fat cells. Someone who is overweight may retain drug metabolites for a longer period of time than someone who is lean.
When to drug test
Employers regulated by the DOT must comply with its drug testing requirements. Employers of the general workforce are free to set up their own workplace drug testing policies. However, it’s wise to know the laws in your state regarding workplace drug testing so you’ll remain in compliance. Moreover, having a professional look over your drug-free policies from time to time is a good idea too. And, always have your policies and procedures documented in writing before implementing them.
Failure to do so could open you up to a future HR-related lawsuit.
Examples of types of employee drug testing are:
- Pre-employment drug test
- Random drug test
- Post-accident drug test
- Reasonable suspicion drug test
- Return-to-duty drug test
- Probation drug test
Pot poses problems
All USA Mobile Drug Testing standard test panels include marijuana.
Marijuana legalization, both medical and recreational, puts the spotlight on employee drug testing. Advocates for legalization want marijuana completely removed from company drug tests. On the other hand, employers don’t think that’s a good idea because legal or not, being under the influence at work is not acceptable.
Currently, marijuana remains classed as a Schedule 1 drug on the Controlled Substances Act and employers have every right to keep it on the company drug test. However, if the STATES Act passes, the federal government will remove the Schedule 1 classification and leave regulation of the drug at the individual state level.
Employers need to stay abreast of the changing laws pertaining to marijuana legalization. And, if you operate in more than one state—good luck. Conflicting laws will complicate things. Carve-outs for safety-sensitive industries will hopefully be left in place.
Thankfully, that’s been the case so far.
New York City and Nevada are both enforcing a law banning employers from placing marijuana on pre-employment drug tests beginning next year. Both NYC and Nevada left carve-outs in place pertaining to safety. Even employers of the general workforce are encouraged to go over their job descriptions emphasizing the safety feature whenever possible.
After the new laws take effect, all other company drug tests, such as reasonable suspicion or post-accident tests, can continue to include marijuana.
What drugs does a 12 panel drug test identify?
All drugs included in our standard 12 panel drug test pose a significant risk of abuse. They can induce severe physical and psychological dependence.
- Marijuana (THC)
We should note here that not all “standard” 12 panel drug tests identify the same drugs. Manufacturers create their own “standard” panels, so while many of the drugs included may be the same as other manufacturers, there can be differences.
However, we provide our customers with the option of removing any drug(s) they choose from the panel and testing for another drug instead. Furthermore, you can extend the number of drugs identified by adding to the panels. Lastly, you’re also free to create an entirely unique test panel of your own.
We have the capability to test for “specialty” drugs too, such as steroids, bath salts, or synthetic marijuana.
Why do employers drug test?
It’s a well-established fact that employee drug use costs employers billions of dollars each year. Employees who use drugs are absent and tardy more often, have increased medical costs, and are prone to lower productivity.
More importantly, though, the increased medical costs include workplace accidents.
Employees who use drugs put not only themselves at increased risk of being involved in an accident, but everyone around them as well. Someone impaired by drug use is apt to lose focus on the task at hand.
Accidents happen in an instant.
Someone impaired by drug use is apt to have impaired motor skills. What if they trip or fall into something?
Serious accidents happen in an instant.
Someone impaired by drug use could have a distorted sense of time and space.
Catastrophic accidents happen in an instant.
Employers who strive to provide a drug-free workplace for all do so for safety’s sake more than for any other reason. They’re responsible for the people they employ. People with families to provide for and homes to sustain.
Furthermore, if an employee tests positive for drugs, it may force them to realize that they, indeed, have a problem. Losing your job can be a pretty big eye-opener. A word of encouragement and a list of treatment options in the immediate area at such a bleak moment can mean a lot.