The urine drug test, or urinalysis, is the most widely used method and is the required method of testing for DOT and federally mandated drug testing.
In 1991, Congress passed the Omnibus Transportation Act after two major accidents occurred; one involving an Amtrak passenger train and the other involving a plane crash on the USS Nimitz. Marijuana consumption by the operators was determined to be the culprit in those two events.
In the beginning, urine drug tests were the only method available for testing employees, but as time went on, employees became increasingly creative at cheating this method. Because of that, hair follicle and mouth swab drug tests were invented to thwart the growing issue of integrity.
A recent case study determined that three-quarters of drug users come to work under the influence of one substance or another. Thus, more than 71 percent of all businesses perform some sort of pre-employment drug testing, including 75 percent of all Fortune 500 companies.
Although more time consuming to administer, this method of drug testing is still the cheapest, while providing results which can detect drug use days or weeks after consumption.
How does this method work?
The process of administering, collecting, and processing urine specimen samples is painless but requires gender specific collection specialists to be on-site, and the use of private bathrooms are also necessary.
An employee being tested will be given a sterile specimen container and will be asked to check for any damage or impediments that may cause a sample to be rejected. After both the employee and collection specialist maintain positive visual contact of the specimen container at all times, the employee will be escorted to the designated bathroom.
Once the required amount is collected, typically about 45ml, the employee will cap the specimen container, walk it back to the collection area, and seal the container with a special tamper proof tape strip. Next, the employee will initial the tape strip on their bottle to prevent tampering, and record the date along with their signature on the custody and control form to ensure proper documentation.
The collection specialist will then bring the samples back to the testing lab for analysis. The first test conducted on the specimen samples is called an immunoassay, more commonly referred to as an initial screen. This cost-effective method produces results relatively quickly by leveraging a sort of litmus test by dipping a chemically coated piece of paper into the urine sample. Through color coding, the lab tech determines if any illicit substances are present in the system.
The second test used is called a gas chromatography/mass spectrum (GC/MS). This test is done for confirmation if the initial screening comes up as a positive result. It’s more expensive and time-consuming to conduct but rarely produces false-positive lab results. It detects specific drug metabolites present in the sample.
Urine drug testing is the current standard. It’s also the only method allowed by the Department of Transportation and any federally mandated drug testing programs. Here are some advantages of urine drug tests:
- Urine drug tests are the most cost-effective method available today.
- Modern testing using this method is highly accurate. Laboratories are certified through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), which means the results are accurate, reliable, and defensible in court.
- Most employees today are at least somewhat familiar with this method, so they understand and know what to expect.
There are some disadvantages to urine drug tests. Several issues are associated with the collection of the urine specimen sample, as well as the transportation, and processing of the samples.
- The collection process in itself is unpleasant. Beyond that, the need for gender-specific collection specialists and the provisioning of privately designated bathrooms can create bottlenecks within the collection process.
- There are several myths on how to pass a urine drug test that have been around since the 1980s. This leads some employees to falsely believe they can get away with using drugs. Fortunately for employers, the methods used in attempts to cheat a drug test will result in a negative dilute drug test result.
- Urine drug tests come with the issue of Paruesis or “shy bladder.” This occurs when a person cannot provide enough urine to satisfy the sample requirement. 45 mL of urine must be collected from each person being drug tested in order for the lab tech to conduct the test properly. If a person fails to provide the necessary amount of specimen sample, then additional time must be spent collecting additional samples, and even more time will be spent running the additional tests.
- There are 7 fatal flaws associated with the testing of urine specimens which will immediately flag a specimen for disqualification. This will result in the need for more time and money being spent collecting, transporting, and testing additional urine samples:
- A specimen is submitted without its Custody and Control Form (CCF)
- A collection specialist claimed a specimen was collected but failed to be submit it for testing
- A specimen was collected but the bottle failed to contain the name and signature of the CS
- Two separate specimens were collected with only one CCF recorded for both
- The CCF and specimen container fail to contain the same specimen ID numbers
- There was evidence that the specimen container seal was broken, the tamper proof tape was torn, or there was a leak within the specimen container
- If there isn’t enough specimen in the container for proper testing procedures.
What drugs can be identified by a urine drug test?
This method is popular because it can identify essentially any type of drug.
The human body produces metabolites after using any type of drugs. These biological byproducts can be isolated by lab technicians, allowing for the detection of drug use. Urine drug tests can be used for 5 panel, 9 panel, 10 panel, and 12 panel drug tests, as well as for specialty drug testing to identify bath salts, steroids, synthetic marijuana, and other drugs.
Drugs identified & detection windows
Although this method won’t detect drug use as early as mouth swab drug tests, it can detect metabolites in an employee’s system for days or even weeks longer, making it highly effective and versatile.
- Alcohol: 10 – 12 hours
- Amphetamines: 2 – 4 days
- Methamphetamine: 2 – 5 days
- Barbiturates: 1 – 7 days
- Benzodiazepines: 1 – 7 days
- Marijuana: 1 – 30 days
- Cocaine: 1 – 8 days
- Codeine (opiate): 2 – 4 days
- Morphine (opiate): 2 – 5 days
- Heroin (opiate): 2 – 3 days
- Oxymorphone (opioid) 3 – 4 days
- Oxycodone (opioid) 3 – 4 days
- Hydromorphone (opioid) 3 – 4 days
- Hydrocodone (opioid) 2 – 4 days
- PCP (phencyclidine) 1 – 7 days