Last updated: November 27, 2023
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.
There are three methods used for workplace drug testing. They are the urine, hair follicle, and mouth swab tests. All provide accurate results.
- A positive result indicates drug use.
- Negative results report the person is drug-free.
- An inconclusive result shows neither a positive or negative result.
Urine drug test
The majority of employers uses this drug test. It is the required testing method by the DOT (Department of Transportation) for all those employed in a safety-sensitive position. The detection window varies from a few hours to up to 30 days depending on the drug.
It’s the most cost-effective method. Frankly, employees expect a urine test when informed they will need to take a drug test.
The test subject reports to the testing site and completes the identification process. Next, the technician will explain the entire process and escort the test subject to the designated restroom. One and a half ounces of urine is the amount required for the specimen.
If unable to provide the specimen, they are taken to the waiting area and given something to drink. They must remain on-site up to three hours in hopes of completing the drug test. After the waiting period is over, they will be free to leave. The technician will notify the employer of the issue. The test may or may not be rescheduled, depending on company policy.
After providing the specimen and signing out, they are free to leave. It is then the technician’s responsibility to transport the sample to the lab following proper chain-of-custody protocol.
If a specimen tests positive when administered the immunoassay (IA) test, the laboratory conducts a second test. This test, called the gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS), is used to detect specific drugs. Test results return in a few days.
Mouth swab drug test
The mouth swab drug test is considered less intrusive than the urine test. But it’s more costly, and the window of detection is much smaller. It varies from a few hours to a maximum of 72 hours depending on the drug.
There is no way to fake this test. A sterile mouth swab is used to saturate the person’s saliva by holding it in their mouth. Drug metabolites in the saliva will cause a positive result. Results for this test are determined quickly.
Hair follicle drug test
This test is quick and easy. All that’s required is a small sample of hair cut close to the scalp. Taken from an area that will not be noticeable, it is bagged and sent to the lab for testing.
The hair gets cut to testing length at the laboratory. Only one and a half inches is necessary for testing.
Though it is the most expensive of the drug tests, it also allows employers a 90-day detection window regardless of the drugs used. The drug metabolites that are deposited in the hair follicle grow out into the hair leaving a permanent record of drug use.
This test does have the longest wait time for results. It usually takes about a week.
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 deaths 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, 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.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why is the 5 panel drug test the most common?
The 5 panel drug test searches for the most commonly abused drugs in the workplace. They are amphetamines/methamphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, PCP (phencyclidine), and opiates.
How do I prepare for a drug test?
You don’t. You just show up, and the technician explains the testing procedure you follow in full.
Does the hair follicle test hurt?
No. It is considered to be the least intrusive of the drug testing methods. All that is required is a small snippet of hair. It’s cut close to the scalp from an unseen area.
There is no hair follicle on this side of my scalp. Are you sure about the testing process? They don’t pull out my hair?
No. It is called the hair follicle test because the drug metabolites wind up in the hair follicle and then grow out into the hair.
I heard the DOT uses a 5 panel test. Is it the same as the standard 5 panel?
No. The DOT (Department of Transportation) uses a 5 panel test that has been expanded to include four synthetic prescription opiates. They are oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, and hydromorphone.
What is a panel anyway?
The panel is the name given to the “section” of the test that detects a specific drug.
Are the drug screen panels available no matter which testing method I use?
Yes. Each drug testing method is capable of detecting the gamut of illicit and prescription drugs.
What is an inconclusive result?
That means that neither a positive or negative result could be determined. The test will have to be retaken.
What does it cost for a urine test? Do I have to pay for that?
It depends on the number of drugs they test for, most range between $30 and $60. And, usually, the employer will assume the cost of any drug testing.
Will a drug test detect Ecstasy?
Yes. If the drug panels include opiates, it will detect Ecstasy.
What’s going to happen to me if I test positive for drugs?
You will likely lose your job.
My pre-employment drug test is tomorrow. I am nervous because I have shy bladder syndrome. What should I do?
Actually, we have a don’t for you. Don’t drink excessive amounts of fluid before you go! It could dilute your specimen so that an inconclusive result is received.
Speaking with future employers about your condition before arriving for testing might be a better plan, though. Perhaps they already have an alternate means in place just for this situation.
What exactly is a drug metabolite?
It is what’s left of the drug after it is broken down by our body system. Metabolites deposit themselves throughout the body. They really like fat cells, but they also collect in hair follicles and saliva.
How long does a drug test take?
Administering the test only takes a few minutes. The hair and mouth swab tests are the quickest, but a urine test should only last 10-15 minutes if you can “go.” People who suffer from shy bladder might get held up for a while.