Last updated: June 5, 2023
The Department of Transportation is committed to seeing that people can travel about our nation safely. Mandated drug testing of the safety-sensitive workforce is part of its safety protocol. Drivers must take a drug test prior to getting behind the wheel. Other reasons for drug testing include random testing throughout the year or if there is reasonable suspicion of drug use. Protocol requires a return-to-duty test after completing a rehabilitation program. DOT drug testing is also done as soon as possible after an accident has occurred.
Oh, and for those who are wondering how far back the test goes, the answer is—it depends.
The DOT requires that employers of the safety-sensitive workforce use urine drug tests. They don’t detect actual drugs though. The urine test detects the metabolites that drugs leave behind after undergoing the body’s metabolization process. Some drug metabolites exit the body in the urine, others escape through sweating, and some actually fuse with your hair.
How long will someone test positive?
As we mentioned above, the length of time that someone can test positive for recent drug use varies with the urine test—the mouth swab test, as well, for that matter. There are several reasons for this, some have to do with the body’s metabolism process.
- The type of drug used makes a difference. Someone who uses heroin can expect to test positive on a urine test for one to three days after stopping use. Someone who smokes marijuana daily can test positive for months!
- Dosage amount and frequency of use affect the process. It stands to reason that the more the drug is ingested, the longer it will remain in the body.
- Individual tolerance levels fluctuate from person to person.
- Physical factors, such as height, weight, gender, age, and even ethnicity can make a difference in the length of time it takes to rid the body of toxins.
- Some medical conditions, such as liver disease, can slow the body’s metabolization process.
- A person’s hydration level at the time of the test could also influence results.
Drug detection times
The DOT drug test looks for five classes of drugs.
- Opiates, including opium and codeine derivatives
- Amphetamines and methamphetamines
- Phencyclidine, also known as PCP
Marijuana is detected in urine for up to three days for occasional use and five days for moderate use. Long-term, daily smokers can test positive for months! Urine tests detect cocaine between one and three days after discontinuing use. Opiates, including fentanyl, are detected in urine for up to four days depending on the drug itself. Amphetamines exit the body fairly quickly. Users can test positive between two and four days after stopping use. PCP stays in the system for up to 5 days, however, if someone uses the drug frequently, it could be even longer.
Why do they risk it?
DOT drug testing must be analyzed in a SAMHSA-approved laboratory. These laboratories are inspected routinely and held to the highest standard. Moreover, technicians are well-trained and the equipment used is highly sophisticated.
The only way anyone can ensure they’re going to pass a drug test is to live drug-free. Still, in the past, some drivers faced with a negative drug test result would move to a new state, get a license, and start looking for a job. It used to be hard to track violations between states. Subsequently, drivers who tried to cheat the system in this way used to have the odds in their favor.
That’s all changed now.
The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse has been up and running for three years now. That means that employers no longer need to query past employers looking for violations. Instead, driver drug and alcohol violation data—from across the entire nation mind you—is recorded in one place. It’s impossible for dishonest drivers to slip through the cracks.
Looking to the future
DOT drug testing may evolve in the future. It has started the process of change by submitting a request to replace the urine drug test with the hair follicle drug test. These tests, while more expensive than urine tests, detect any and all drug use for a 90-day period. This fact has some trucking companies conducting both urine tests and hair tests on their employees.
This seems like a good time to repeat that the only way to know with certainty that the drug test is going to turn out negative is to live life drug-free. It’s going to free you up from the stress associated with hiding the fact that you abuse drugs. That’s going to add years to your life! Eliminating the risk of dying from a drug overdose is going to do that too.