Last updated: November 27, 2023
According to Drugs.com some data suggests that false positive drug test results occur between five and ten percent of the time. Before you question whether or not that would be considered rare, we need to clarify that statement. Some companies use onsite urinalysis or dip-strip instant testing, also known as point of care testing (POCT). These methods are actually presumptive screening tools that are used to identify chemical compounds. If the chemical compound closely resembles that of an illicit drug, the test registers positive.
It’s most likely for that reason that some states restrict the use of POCT tests altogether. Others require employers to submit a positive result to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) approved laboratory for further testing.
Still, POCT drug tests are used more often than ever and a false positive result can have a very negative result in the person’s life.
Results such as:
- Job loss
- Jail time
- Exclusion from playing competitive sports
- Lost probation privileges
- Inappropriate medical care
Leave no room for doubt
When employers have their employees report to a drug testing facility or have a mobile unit come on-site, tests are sent to laboratories for analysis. It turns out that upon being received, the specimens undergo an instant drug test to determine if there are any chemical signs of illicit drug use. This test is relatively inexpensive and since the vast majority of drug tests are negative, taking this step greatly reduces the employer’s cost.
When there is a positive result on the instant test, the specimen is sent for further testing. The confirmation test is called a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) test. This test identifies the unique chemical signature inherent in every compound which, of course, includes parent drugs and their metabolites. Just like fingerprints, no two chemical signatures are exactly alike so test results are accurate every time.
Using the GC-MS test would reduce the number of false positive employee drug test results to nearly zero.
The occasional trigger
When a GC-MS result reports the presence of illicit drugs and the person hasn’t used these drugs, it’s possible that a specific prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medication is the culprit. It’s important that test subjects report all types of medications they have ingested prior to the drug test.
Some medications that can alter drug test results are:
- OTC cough and cold products
Prior to 2019, poppy seeds that were purchased unwashed from overseas distributors sometimes contained enough residue to cause false positive results for opiates. However, the concentration cutoff level was raised from 300 ng/mL to 2,000 ng/mL to counter that reaction.
Proving a point
If you operate a drug-free workplace and your state allows POCT employee drug testing, it’s a good idea to have any positive results tested by a laboratory using the GC-MS test. It confirms the POCT result and determines the levels of the drug, or drugs, identified. False positive drug test results can occur, but rarely. In no way should the threat of a false positive test result keep an employer from operating a drug-free workplace.
Maintaining a drug-free workplace helps employers meet their number one goal. That is to create the safest work environment possible for their employees. Using drugs—any drugs—has an effect on both mind and body. People in an altered state are more apt to make a mistake that could result in an accident.
It’s a proven fact that companies with drug-free programs report fewer accidents. Moreover, employees are absent less often, productivity increases, and turnover decreases.
Additionally, employees who don’t use drugs realize that their employer drug tests because he cares about their well-being. The trickle-down effect there puts a positive spin flowing throughout company culture overall. Employees who are happy at work are far more likely to stay with their employer long-term.
And that points toward a positive outlook for the future of your company.