Last updated: December 4, 2023
Many employers have started including the fentanyl drug test in their workplace drug testing programs to cope with this deadly drug sweeping the nation.
This drug is similar to morphine, but two differences jump to mind right away. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It doesn’t show up on a standard opiate drug test.
Patients who have severe pain following surgery find relief with fentanyl. Also prescribed for patients with chronic pain who develop a tolerance for other pain medications, fentanyl does have its place in the medical realm. It even has anesthetic qualities when combined with other drugs.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid often manufactured in clandestine laboratories for the black market. Currently, most fentanyl sold on the black market gets smuggled into the United States from China and Mexico.
Because it is affordable and the high it produces in the user is extreme, many drug dealers are “cutting” fentanyl into other street drugs to enhance their profit. Users of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, or MDMA that are not aware of that fact, could easily ingest enough fentanyl to suffer a lethal overdose.
It is known by the street names: China Girl, Apache, China 8, Murder 8, Jackpot and Tango & Cash. Murder 8 is a chilling omen to users because the number of fentanyl-related deaths has risen dramatically. In 2010, fentanyl was a factor in 14.3 percent of opioid-related deaths compared to 59.8 percent of opiate-related overdose deaths in 2017.
Prescription opiate abuse had already reached crisis levels, prompting SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) and the DOT (Department of Transportation) to add synthetic opioids to their drug testing panels. That testing began in January 2019. Let’s note here that currently fentanyl is not detected by the federal government’s testing panel.
Reasons to conduct a fentanyl drug test
The goal of every employer is maintaining the safest possible work environment for every employee straight through to the consumer. Employers drug test for safety’s sake.
Put your company’s policies and procedures regarding a drug-free workplace in writing before testing ever begins. This helps shield you from any false accusations concerning bias or discrimination.
There are five common drug testing policies most employers put in place. Companies that are federally regulated must follow this drug testing protocol, too. But, again, fentanyl is not detected on the DOT mandated 5 panel drug test.
There are no specific signs or symptoms of fentanyl abuse, but signs and symptoms of opiate abuse as described in the reasonable suspicion section of your drug-free protocol would apply. Other reasons employers drug test are pre-employment, random, post-accident, or return to duty.
Pre-employment drug test
Companies that require a pre-employment drug test establish their view on a drug-free workplace from the start. New recruit employees are often asked to take a drug test at the end of the interview process and after any background check results return.
Random drug test
Random drug tests offer that surprise element. You are not planning to catch employees impaired by drug use, but deterring them from coming to work impaired in the first place. It is a very effective tool in that regard and it encourages employees to choose a drug-free lifestyle overall.
Employers often have a TPA (Third Party Administrator) that handles their random drug screening program. They create an ongoing employee pool from which names are randomly pulled for the drug test. Unless mandated otherwise, employers are free to determine the frequency of random drug testing.
Post-accident drug test
A company’s post-accident procedure kicks into action immediately. For most places of business, this includes a drug test. The employer wants to establish whether or not drugs were a determining factor. But, the thought of post-accident drug testing is a huge influence to remaining drug-free. Causing an accident due to the negligent behavior of drug use would have very serious repercussions.
Reasonable suspicion drug test
Having the company’s required evidence of reasonable suspicion outlined in your drug-free workplace policies will make it easier should your staff ever need to initiate this type of drug test. Training your management team in what signs and symptoms to look for is another invaluable tool if workplace drug use is suspected.
Return to duty drug test
If there is a return to duty policy in effect and the form of rehabilitation stipulated to the employee completed, they may return to work after submitting a negative drug test result.
How is a fentanyl drug test conducted?
If you use the standard 5 panel drug test, fentanyl is not detected. It isn’t detected in the expanded synthetic opiate panel, either. The 9 panel, 10 panel, or 12 panel drug tests include a more comprehensive range of drugs abused in the workplace today.
Unless regulated otherwise, you are free to add fentanyl to any of the test panels you choose. Replacing a drug panel with one for fentanyl is also an option.
The test panel you choose may be administered by any of the choices below:
Urine drug test
The urine drug test, regulated for use by the DOT, is the most widely used test method in the general workforce. It is the most cost-effective and extremely accurate. Considered the most invasive in nature, the urine drug test has become so common that it employees expect it. The test subject must provide about 1 ½ ounces of urine for the specimen.
It takes a few days to obtain the test results. The window of drug detection is up to 30 days depending on the drug ingested.
Mouth swab drug test
The mouth swab drug test is another choice for employers. The test subject’s saliva saturates the sterile pad infused with the screening panels of choice. The results are very accurate and obtained quickly.
The window of detection is up to 72 hours prior to the test depending on the drug taken.
Hair follicle drug test
This test is the least invasive of the test methods because all that you need is approximately 120 hairs from the subject. Cut from an area that won’t be seen, the hair is sealed in a bag and sent to the lab for testing.
The metabolites that contain drug remnants grow out of the follicle into the center of the hair shaft. A record of drug use left within the hair is detectable for any drug use for 90 days. This test is extremely accurate. The DOT is in the process of making this the federally mandated test method for all employed in safety-sensitive positions.