The mouth swab drug test, also called a saliva drug test or oral swab drug test, has become a common method for detecting recent drug use.
As legal marijuana use becomes more common, many employers and police departments are turning to this drug screening method. This is because it enables them to check for very recent drug use on the spot. Convenience is a major factor. Oral fluid testing is fast, simple, and inexpensive, as compared to more intrusive methods like a hair or blood test. This has proven to be an effective way to keep drugs or alcohol out of the workplace.
Collection is as simple as using a sterile swab to swipe a small saliva sample from the inside of the subject’s mouth. Its main drawback is that it is not yet approved for DOT drug testing. Because of its shorter detection window, some employers have started using it to test for recent marijuana use. It’s also especially effective for random drug testing because it can be performed anywhere at a moment’s notice.
How does this test work?
According to research conducted by the National Institutes of Health shows that the mouth swab drug test is highly effective.
A common misconception is that the swab simply collects remnants of a drug that has been consumed. In reality, it collects metabolites. Metabolites are the byproduct of the human body metabolizing drugs. The body breaks down all substances consumed, resulting in specific, predictable, and measurable chemical byproducts. These metabolites within the blood plasma are then transferred as waste to saliva in the same way that they are transferred to urine.
Simply rinsing the mouth with water or mouthwash prior to a test won’t remove evidence of recent drug consumption. Nor will brushing your teeth, using gum or herbs, or using “detox” products. In other words, you can’t cheat this test.
The mouth swab drug test is highly effective from a period of time within a few minutes up to several days after a drug has been consumed. This is because the same compounds evident in a person’s blood are also present in their oral fluids. The drug metabolites are detected in saliva, rather than drug particles.
The mouth swab drug test offers a lot of advantages to employers, particularly when convenience and speed are important.
- The greatest advantage is convenience. Whether in an office, on the accident site, or at another location, testing can be conducted on the spot.
- There is no need for a private bathroom or gender-specific collectors.
- They are relatively inexpensive.
- Because of their convenience, this offers easy testing for a variety of situations, including the pre-employment, post-accident, follow-up, or return-to-duty drug testing.
- Compared to other drug testing methods, results can be processed more quickly.
- They are less invasive than other options.
- Drug use can be detected in as soon as a few minutes and up to 72 hours after use.
- It is nearly impossible to cheat because the collector is present during collection. There is no opportunity to intentionally adulterate (corrupt) a specimen, such as switching it with a clean, prearranged sample.
- Lab testing for saliva is just as accurate as urine testing.
- Additional samples can be collected immediately if necessary, as opposed to urine samples, which may require a longer wait.
Though there are few disadvantages, so consider their differences compared to other drug testing methods before deciding what is best for your situation.
- Many web sites falsely claim to offer products, such as detox mouthwashes, that can supposedly help a person cheat a saliva test. This doesn’t work, but employees or employee candidates may be more tempted to try drugs when they think they have an easy way to cheat. It’s important to educate employees in order to avoid this issue.
- 72 hours is the maximum period of time after consumption that drug use can be detected. Other testing methods - like hair follicle testing - may be better options for identifying long-term, continued drug use.
- Employers are not permitted to conduct saliva drug testing as their primary testing method if they work for the federal government or they are required to follow DOT regulations. Only urinalysis is permitted in these cases.
What drugs can be identified?
5-panel, 9-panel, 10-panel, and 12-panel drug tests can all be conducted using a mouth swab drug test. This test detects various drugs, including, but not limited to:
- Opiates / opioids
- Synthetic marijuana
- Ecstasy (MDMA)
- Crystal meth
- Rohypnol (roofies)
This method has the shortest window for detecting drug use. The mouth swab drug test can detect drug use within just a few minutes. The detection window will vary between a few minutes up to three days, depending on the type of drug used.
These are some general detection windows:
- Marijuana: From one hour after use, up to 48 hours at the most.
- Cocaine: From several minutes following consumption, up to about one day.
- Opiates, including Hydrocodone, Codeine, Fentanyl, or Oxycodone: From about an hour after use, up to three days afterward.
- Methamphetamine and amphetamines: From several minutes following consumption, up to as long as three days.
- Alcohol: Almost immediately after consumption, and up to a half day afterward.
Frequently asked questions
How long does this type of test go back?
A properly collected saliva sample will contain metabolites of most drugs for up to 48 hours. Opiate / opioid use may be detected for up to 72 hours.
How soon can this testing method identify drug use?
Drug metabolites are present in a saliva sample within 30-60 minutes after use. This earlier detection time combined with its shorter detection window makes it attractive to employers who are more flexible on off-duty marijuana use.
Can employers conduct a mouth swab drug test in states where marijuana is legal?
Yes. Regardless of legalization at the state level, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. It presents a legitimate safety concern because of its adverse impact on judgment, reaction time, and coordination.
Consuming marijuana on the job is the same thing as drinking on the job. Even if you live in a “cannabis-friendly” state like Colorado or California, drug use in the workplace is not allowed.
Because of these factors, it should come as no surprise that the courts at all levels have consistently upheld an employer’s right to enforce a drug-free workplace.
How accurate is this type of drug test?
All drug tests are highly accurate. The reality is that false positives are a myth.
If the initial immunoassay test returns a positive result for drug use, it is then tested using gas chromatography.
This means that before issuing a positive drug test result, two completely separate and highly accurate lab procedures are first performed.
How soon are results typically available?
Results from a mouth swab drug test are available within minutes when we conduct an instant test, and within 48 hours when we conduct a standard test.
It’s important to note that instant testing doesn’t include the typical follow-up gas chromatography test. We do recommend. This helps to protect employers from HR-related issues resulting from a false positive. This concern does not exist with standard testing.
What are the cut-off levels?
The cut-off levels for all tests conducted by USAMDT are based on the current Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) proposed guidelines.
How long does the test take?
Each mouth swab test takes just a few minutes. Since employees are not required to travel to and from the restroom, the entire testing process for all employees is often significantly faster than other methods.
How do you pass a mouth swab drug test?
The only certain way to pass any drug test is to not use drugs. Shocking, right?
Some drug users have attempted to mask drug use by rinsing their mouth with mouthwash or eating breath mints in an attempt to pass a saliva test. Fortunately for employers, this doesn’t work because the test looks for drug metabolites, which are the metabolic by-product of drug use, rather than simply looking for drug particles. Unlike a urine drug test, oral drug tests are not susceptible to a negative dilute drug test result.
Do over-the-counter medications affect oral fluid?
The initial screening screens enzyme-immunoassay antibodies (EIA). This is similar to those used in a urine drug test. While slight, the potential for over-the-counter medications to cause a false positive result does exist, but only in the initial screening. To eliminate potential false positive results, USAMDT confirms all initial positive results by a gas chromatography test.
Is this acceptable for DOT drug testing?
No. As of 2018, the Department of Transportation accepts only results from urine drug tests. There have been discussions about implementing hair drug tests due to their longer detection window. This also applies to any drug test required as a condition of employment by, or contract with, the federal government.
Am I required to take the test?
If your employer has a drug testing policy as a condition of employment, then the answer is generally yes. It is typically considered a positive result when an employee refuses to take a drug test. Depending on the employer’s drug testing policy, an employee may receive counseling, suspension, or even termination. This may vary from state to state.