A 5 panel drug test is, as the name implies, one that identifies five of the most commonly used and abused drugs, including amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana (THC), methamphetamines, opiates, and phencyclidine (PCP). This can be conducted using a urine sample, oral fluids, or hair.
This is similar, but not exactly the same as the panel required by the Department of Transportation for DOT drug testing, which includes four additional semi-synthetic opioids—hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone. These are also known by their brand names OxyContin®, Percodan®, Percocet®, Vicodin®, Lortab®, Norco®, Dilaudid®, Exalgo®.
Employers that are not regulated by the Department of Transportation are free to conduct non-DOT drug screening, and they frequently use this specific drug panel because it’s fast, cost-effective, and identifies the drugs most frequently abused in the workplace today. In fact, this panel is the current standard used by the Federal government’s Mandatory Guidelines for Workplace Drug Testing.
Because this test isn’t used in DOT drug testing, any method, to include urinalysis, hair, and mouth swab drug testing, can be used for a standard 5 panel drug testing.
What drugs can be identified?
The following drugs are typically included in a 5 panel drug test because they demonstrate a high potential for abuse, likelihood to cause severe psychological or physical dependence, and are some of the most frequently abused drugs.
*Note: Some employers, certified labs, and/or test kits may include different drugs, so it’s important to confirm if the drugs you want to test for are included on the test that will be conducted.
Amphetamines are typically found in pill form, and are often crushed by illegal drug users so they can be snorted for a faster, more intense high. This drug is commonly found in prescription ADHD and ADD treatment drugs like Adderall and Ritalin.
Amphetamine is also a central nervous system stimulant and an appetite suppressant, but to a lesser extent than drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine. Instead of the massive boost of energy provided by cocaine, amphetamines simply allow the user to stay awake, alert, and focused. That’s why this popular, yet still incredibly dangerous “study drug” is so commonly used by high school and college students.
This is a Schedule 2 drug with high potential for abuse and potential for psychological or physical dependence. While it is illegal recreationally, it is available by prescription for the treatment of certain medical conditions.
Cocaine is commonly glamorized by Hollywood, in everything from fast-paced business movies to gritty crime dramas, and is usually seen in the form of a white powder that can be snorted, smoked, or even dissolved and injected. This highly addictive and dangerous drug is processed from the leaves of the coca plant using a variety of toxic chemicals.
As a powerful stimulant, cocaine is popular with people who want to stay up for a long time such as an overnight work shift, drivers, or all night parties. It also acts as an appetite suppressant, often causing rapid weight loss.
This is a Schedule 2 drug because of its high potential for abuse and likelihood to cause severe psychological or physical dependence.
Marijuana is yet another drug glamorized by Hollywood, and while it’s nearly always portrayed as a safe and fun way to unwind, be creative, and entertain yourself, those portrayals simply are not accurate. The most common way this drug is consumed is by smoking it, which results in a very distinct and pungent odor. It can also be vaporized, distilled into an oil, eaten, or made into a tea.
Although it has been legalized in several states, it still presents a substantial risk in the workplace because of its impairing effect on users, causing delayed reaction time, loss of coordination, and poor judgment.
This is still recognized by the Federal government as a Schedule 1 drug with no medicinal uses, however, some US states have recognized perceived medical uses, and allow legal prescription of marijuana. Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington have also legalized marijuana recreationally, but many employers still test for it in a 5 panel drug test.
Methamphetamine is a slightly modified, and much more powerful and damaging variant of amphetamine that has been popularized in television shows like Breaking Bad. Most people know this drug by its street names, meth, or crystal meth. Methamphetamine comes in a powdered or in a crystallized form, typically in tiny plastic baggies. Since a large amount of meth is made in illicit home laboratories, it is often difficult to establish a standard of composition or strength.
A methamphetamine user experiences a sudden rush of euphoria, along with a massive increase in energy and focus. Once the initial effects wear off, the user will require a larger dose to achieve the same high the next time. The dangerous addiction potential combined with a rapidly increasing tolerance for larger doses creates a strong and violent dependence and risk of overdose. Extended use of meth damages, and in most cases, even even destroys dopamine receptors, making it impossible to feel pleasure.
This is a Schedule 2 drug due to its high potential for abuse and potential for psychological or physical dependence.
Opiates (and semi-synthetic opioids) are derived from the opium poppy plant. The opiate base is used to manufacture both illegal drug such as heroin, as well as pharmacutical painkillers such as morphine and hydrocodone. Opiate drugs typically come in pill form, which can be swallowed, but as a user progresses down the path of addiction, they may resort to crushing them, to be snorted, smoked, or even injected. Opiates also include heroin, which may be snorted, smoked, or even injected.
America is currently in the midst of a national crisis—an opiate epidemic that has caused over 49,000 in 2017, and has damaged, perhaps irreparably, the lives of exponentially more. In addition to the goal of reducing severe pain, opiates also create a rush of endorphins, creating a powerful sense of euphoria. This makes them highly addictive.
Since there are legitimate medical uses for opiates for treating patients post surgery and those with sever injuries, different types are scheduled differently by the Department of Drug Enforcement (DEA). For example, while heroin is a Schedule 1, while is Oxycodone is a Schedule 2 drug.
Phencyclidine (PCP or angel dust)
Phencyclidine is usually synthetically manufactured in illegal laboratories or stolen from veterinary supplies, and may be found in either a powdered form, or in a translucent yellowish liquid. Users can snort, smoke, or even inject this drug.
This powerful drug has a legitimate use as an animal tranquilizer, and may also be known by the street names, PCP or angel dust. It’s used recreationally to induce hallucinations, superhuman strength, and dangerous “out of body” experiences. Severe cases of PCP use have been documented to create extended states of impairment similar to schizophrenia.
Because of its medical use, Phencyclidine is labeled as a Schedule 2 narcotic with no legal use for humans. This is considered an extremely dangerous drug with detrimental side effects, with PCP related hospital visits increasing by more than 400% between 2005-2011.
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