Last updated: April 5, 2021
In recent years, largely due to the massive increase in marijuana legalization, drug testing has become increasingly common in the modern workplace. In the United States, drug testing is crucial towards combating both the direct and hidden costs of drug use by employees, which is estimated to cost American companies in excess of one hundred billion dollars annually.
Despite huge technological advances in the field of clinical toxicology, drug testing methods have remained largely the same over the last several decades, i.e., testing is conducted by screening and analyzing the analytes and metabolites present in biological samples such as blood, sweat, urine, oral fluids and hair follicles using immunoassay, chromatography and spectrometry techniques. However, the latter three (urine, oral fluids and hair) remain the most popular drug screening methods among American employers primarily due to the combination of convenience, cost and accuracy. Nevertheless, as employers, which drug testing method among the three is best for your company? It’s time for a closer look.
Urinalysis (urine drug testing)
Urinalysis is the most common method of drug testing today. This is chiefly due to cost and the fact that it’s what everyone is used to. The long-term established technology behind urine drug testing also means the method will stand up to legal challenges in the courtroom without any difficulty. Urine samples degrade very slowly and can be preserved in frozen form, making for a stable specimen. Collection of samples can be collected by trained collectors or even the subject directly—and therein lies its greatest weakness. Since direct observation during collection is generally not utilized due to privacy concerns, urine samples can be switched or tampered with. It is worth mentioning that urinalysis is the Department of Transportation’s only approved method of testing for its 5-Panel drug test during physical and medical examinations.
Oral fluid drug testing
Oral fluid or mouth swab drug testing is an exceptionally fast and non-invasive collection method. Testing does not require a private area and can be administered anywhere, which makes the gender of the collector a non-issue. Collection is a simple matter of wiping a sterile gauze swab between the cheek and gum of the test subject’s mouth, which is then placed into a specimen bottle for delivery to the lab. Unlike other forms of drug testing which require for drugs to first enter the blood stream or metabolize, drugs that are consumed orally can be detected almost immediately using oral fluid testing. However, this is also makes the detection window extremely short—hours in many cases. This makes oral fluid drug tests the perfect choice for post-accident testing for employees who do not fall under DOT regulations.
Hair drug testing
Hair drug testing offers a unique and unrivaled insight into the long-term drug use history of employees. In fact, this method provides up to a 90 day window for drug detection, beating all other methods by a long shot. This empowers employers with a powerful tool when hiring for critical, safety-sensitive positions. The process involves snipping a 1″ wide section of hair as close to the scalp as possible, which is then sealed into a specimen bottle for delivery to the lab. Nevertheless, there are some concerns about false positives because, while extremely rare, hair is capable of absorbing drugs from the environment—especially for African Americans and those whose hair has been damaged due to salon treatments such as perming and straightening.
Which drug testing method is right for you?
As long as you’re company is not regulated by the Department of Transportation, the choice is yours. You simply need to weight the privacy concerns, if any, and determine how far back you want the drug test to identify drug use. All of these methods are highly accurate, reliable, and cost-effective. The most important thing is to choose a method, implement a drug testing policy, and inform your employees so that you can begin regularly conducting pre-employment and random drug testing in compliance with state and federal laws to improve workplace safety and productivity.