Last updated: September 25, 2023
A POCT, or point of collection test, is an instant or rapid drug or alcohol test. Otherwise known as a point of care test or express testing, they come in a variety of forms. They include immunoassay strips, cassettes, and cups. It can also be an instrument-facilitated urine screening that is performed at the location where the employee or applicant provides a urine specimen.
They are usually administered on-site or in the field. However, some employers prefer they be administered and interpreted by a trained drug testing technician at a specified location.
The majority of the time, the administrator has the result in a few minutes.
What’s the rush
Many employers of the general workforce, however, utilize POCTs for pre-employment drug tests. The tests determine immediate results that don’t slow down the hiring process with wait time. It can take up to 72 hours to receive the results of a urine test sent for laboratory testing.
The number of negative drug test results far outweighs the positive ones. If you’re an employer with a production line to fill, for example, that 72 hours may be too long to wait. The sooner HR sees a negative test result, the sooner the new employee begins work! That benefits both the employer and the employee.
Moreover, employers also use POCTs for post-incident or post-accident testing. This can be a very useful screening tool. If the test is negative, the employee can return to work rather than being removed from duty until lab results are returned.
Point of collection tests that provide results in a few minutes aren’t as accurate as laboratory testing. For that reason, POCTs that yield a positive result require additional confirmation in most cases. Some states require additional laboratory testing to establish positive results. However, if not regulated by the state to do so, many employers choose to add the stipulation to their drug-free policies on their own. It’s a form of protection against legal action.
The lab, then, re-tests for drugs or alcohol using liquid or gas chromatography/mass spectrometry to identify specific drugs and drug metabolites. The lab tests also determine the level of drugs or metabolites found.
Laboratory testing is very accurate. If it’s a positive result, company protocol is followed from that point.
As mentioned above, some employers choose POCTs for their pre-employment testing when a fast turnaround time benefits the company’s productivity level. The convenience and time-saving factors are important for some companies. Some smaller companies may look at cost-efficiency in determining whether or not to use point of call testing. It’s much less expensive than sending all employee specimens to the lab.
Notably, drug-testing employees, especially in states that legalize marijuana to any degree, is becoming a more complex issue. If you are considering POCTs for your business, evaluating your specific criteria is a good idea.
Some things to consider include:
- What are the specific objectives of your company’s drug-free or zero-tolerance program?
- Does your state allow the use of point of collection drug tests?
- What are the configurations of your company’s drug screen panel?
- Not all POCTs use the same cutoff levels. Device sensitivity also plays a part in test results.
- Is there less chance of donor adulteration or cheating using laboratory technicians to administer the test?
- Do the savings in cost and time POCTs provide override the value of actual laboratory testing?
- There is an added responsibility for collecting and interpreting test results.
Do POCTs measure up?
Many POCT testing devices are FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved. POCT devices are available for a variety of drug testing panels. However, they contain various cut-off levels that determine a positive or negative result. Moreover, depending on the manufacturer, there is a difference in the specificity and sensitivity of the assays used. This can be a problem.
Most of these instant test methods perform nearly as well as laboratory tests. That said, opiates, amphetamines, PCP, and benzodiazepines have a greater cross-reactivity with other substances. Employers often include these commonly abused drugs on the test panel. This fact influences an employer’s decision on whether or not to use these tests.
The results are in
Instant result test kits require the administrator to determine a positive or negative result. They are designed for ease of use. Reading most results is merely the line method. A line in the “control” portion of the test indicates the test is working properly. Lines in the “control” and “test” portion indicate a negative result. A line in the “control” portion only indicates drug use.
Some employers who use this type of employee drug test extensively put a quality control measure in place. They don’t send only positive specimens on for laboratory testing. They send a percentage, say ten or 20 percent, of specimens with a negative result to the lab for full screening as well. This confirms that the test obtains accurate results across the board.
Drug-free for all
Employers implement drug-free or zero-tolerance policies to ensure the safest possible work environment for everyone. Drugs in the workplace cost employers billions of dollars a year in lowered productivity, increased absenteeism, medical costs, and workplace accidents. In addition, there is a higher employee turnover rate. Consequently, this means recruiting and training new employees.
Of course, it’s mainly to deter employees from using drugs in the first place. Knowing a failed drug test will keep them from getting or keeping a job will, hopefully, encourage them to live a drug-free lifestyle. This is the best-case scenario.
Moreover, if a positive result keeps someone from getting or keeping a job, they may choose to seek help as a result. Seeking help is the way to beat drug addiction. They receive help in getting off the drug. They also learn valuable coping skills that keep them from using again.
The number of overdose deaths in the United States dropped last year. Workplace drug testing might be a factor. Educating employees on the dangers of drug use can help as well.
Remember, POCT is also defined as point of care testing. That applies here. If an employee or job applicant tests positive for drugs, do you have information available that points them toward rehabilitation? Knowing that someone cares enough to reach out with a solution may be the catalyst they need to seek help.
It could save their life.