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.
Many police departments today are turning to this handy drug screening method to check on the spot for impaired drivers as legal marijuana use becomes more common. Convenience is a major factor. Oral fluid testing is fast, simple, and inexpensive, as opposed to more intrusive methods like a urine or blood test. This has proven to be an effective way to keep drugs or alcohol out of the workplace.
Collecting a sample is as simple as using a sterile swab to swipe a small saliva sample from the inside of the subject’s mouth. It’s main drawback, for the moment, is that it is not yet an approved method 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 moments notice.
How does this test work?
According to research conducted by the National Institutes of Health shows that oral fluid drug testing is highly effective.
A common misconception is that the swab simply collects remnants of a drug that has been consumed, but in reality, it collects metabolites, which are the byproduct of the human body metabolizing drugs. The body breaks down all substances consumed, resulting in specific, predictable, and measurable chemical by products. 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, gum, herbs, or “detox” products. This screening process 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. In other words, drug metabolites are detected in saliva, rather than drug particles.
Saliva testing offers a lot of advantages to employers, particularly when convenience and speed are important.
- The greatest advantage is its 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, they offer an easy testing option 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, pre-arranged sample.
- Lab testing for saliva is just as accurate as urine testing.
- Additional samples can be collected immediately is 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 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?
- Opiates / opioids
- Synthetic marijuana
- Ecstasy (MDMA)
- Crystal meth
- Rohypnol (roofies)
This method has the shortest window for detecting drug use. Unlike other testing methods, however, it can detect drug use almost immediately. Often, 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 afterwards.
- 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 a 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 ingestion. This earlier detection time, combined with its shorter detection window makes it especially attractive to employers who are more flexible on off-duty marijuana use.
Can employers conduct mouth swab tests in states where marijuana is legal?
Yes. Regardless of legalization at the state level, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, and it presents a legitimate safety concern because of its adverse impact on judgment, reaction time, and coordination. Essentially, consuming marijuana on the job is the same thing as drinking on the job. In other words, 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 workplace.
How accurate is this type of drug test?
Swab drug tests are highly accurate today, and offer positive rates that are comparable to urine drug testing. The reality is that false positives are simply a myth. If the initial immunoassay test returns a positive result for drug use. This means that before issuing a positive drug test result, two completely separate and highly accurate procedures are first performed.
How soon are results typically available?
Results 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, which we do recommend. This helps to protect employers from HR-related issues resulting from a false positive. This issue 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?
Typically, each test conducted using this method takes just a few minutes. And since employees are not required to travel to and from the restroom, the entire testing process for all employees is often significantly faster than urine drug testing.
How do you pass a mouth swab drug test?
The only certain way to pass any drug test is to not use drugs.
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 byproduct of drug use, rather than simply looks for drug particles. And unlike a urine drug test, oral drug tests 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 gas chromatography test.
Is this acceptable for DOT drug testing?
No. As of 2018, the Department of Transportation still only accepts results from urine drug tests, although 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 test?
If your employer has a drug testing policy as a condition of employment, then the answer is generally yes. When an employee refuses to take a drug test is typically considered a positive result. Depending on the employer’s drug testing policy, an employee may receive counseling, suspension, or even termination. This may vary from state to state.