Last updated: November 27, 2023
The urine drug test, or urinalysis, is by far the most widely used employee drug testing method. In fact, until very recently, the DOT and other federally regulated entities accepted nothing else.
Let’s start there
Employee drug testing undoubtedly became more widespread after the DOT (Department of Transportation) began testing the safety-sensitive workforce.
In 1991, Congress passed the Omnibus Transportation Act to enforce drug testing regulated employees after two major accidents occurred. One involved an Amtrak passenger train and the other involved a plane crash on the USS Nimitz. Both operators tested positive for marijuana.
The DOT drug test identifies five commonly abused drugs.
In January 2018, the opiate test panel was extended to include hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone, and oxymorphone. These highly addictive opioid pain killers are grossly abused in all walks of society.
In the beginning, urine drug tests were the only method available for testing employees. However, desperate employees became increasingly creative discovering ways to cheat on the test. Because of that, hair follicle and mouth swab drug tests were invented to thwart the growing issue of integrity. The DOT maintained its confidence in the urine drug test and kept it as the only approved testing method.
That changed on October 25, 2019. The Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) released the guidelines dictating the proper use of the oral fluid drug test as another option for federally regulated entities. It becomes effective on January 1, 2020.
Furthermore, a request to change from the urine drug test to the hair follicle drug test is currently making its way through the proper channels. It’s not expected to meet with resistance and the process should be completed soon.
Other changes on the horizon
Also beginning in January 2020, the FMCSA Clearinghouse rolls forward to establish a nationwide database tracking employee drug and alcohol violations. It will eventually eliminate the possibility of a driver slipping through the cracks by simply failing to report a violation on a job application or moving to another state to obtain a new CDL.
Beginning January 6, 2020, employers must query the database checking for unresolved drug or alcohol violations before hiring a new driver. Employers must continue to contact previous employers as always for the time being. After January 6, 2023, employers will discontinue the paper chain and only inquire about violations through the Clearinghouse.
Employers need to register before the January 6th start date to be in compliance with the new regulations.
There are additions to DOT regulations regarding changing the approved ID methods on your CCFs (custody and control forms), employee notification, and other minor details. We’re up-to-date on the new requirements and understand the way the Clearinghouse operates. We’ll be glad to keep you lined out with our DOT program. We customize it to meet your specific needs handling everything that has to do with your drug testing program—all while leaving you free to greet the auditor with a genuine smile any time they walk in the door.
How does this method work?
Despite the test’s unpleasant nature, employees expect it when learning about a drug test. It requires gender-specific collection specialists to be on-site for modesty’s sake and the use of private bathrooms is also necessary.
After completing the identification process, the employee being tested is given a sterile specimen container and asked to check for any damage or impediments that may cause a rejection. After completing the inspection, both the employee and collection specialist maintain visual contact of the specimen container at all times while the employee is escorted to the designated restroom.
Once collecting the required amount, typically about one and one-half ounces (45ml), the employee caps the specimen container and walks it back to the collection area. The collection specialist measures the sample immediately to ensure it’s within the required limits. The employee seals the container with a special tamper-proof tape strip. Next, the employee initials the tape strip to prevent tampering and records the date along with their signature on the custody and control form.
The collection specialist then delivers the samples to the testing lab for analysis.
Lab tests performed
The first test conducted on the specimen samples is called an immunoassay (IA), 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 card into the urine sample. Through color coding, the lab tech determines if any illicit substances are present in the system. Samples testing positive receive a second test.
The confirmation test is called gas chromatography/mass spectrum (GC/MS). 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.
We only use the latest drug testing technology so our customers receive accurate results no matter which drug panel or test method they choose for their drug testing program. The results read uniformly for the urine, hair follicle, and mouth swab drug tests.
- Positive results indicate drug use
- Negative results report no drug use
- Inconclusive results can’t be determined with either positive or negative result
Inconclusive results may be due to a number of factors.
Of course, it’s possible that somehow human error on the part of the collection specialist or lab tech somehow plays a part. However, it’s far more likely that the test sample was tampered with in some way.
If you search the internet for ways to “beat” a drug test, page after page of sure-fire methods pop up immediately. There are products available to eat and drink claiming they “detoxify” your body ridding it of all drug metabolites—or at least masking them long enough for you to pass the test. Testimonial after testimonial swear to have passed a urine drug test using homemade concoctions or by consuming certain foods and beverages that naturally cleanse the system.
One highly touted method that assures success is simply by drinking lots and lots of water. Old rumors die hard it seems. Back in the early—and we mean early—days of drug testing there are stories of construction workers rolling up on the new job site gallon water jugs in hand. They’d polish off the jug before attending orientation and pass the drug test at the end no matter what they’d done the night before.
Thankfully, advances in both drug testing technology and the enhanced sophistication of lab testing equipment, make that a thing of the distant past.
Today, urine tests detect dilution attempts and yield one of two inconclusive results.
- Positive dilute—This result indicates that even though the specimen was diluted, the test identified drugs in the system. The employers follow their positive drug test policy.
- Negative dilute—This test result indicates a diluted sample was submitted, however, no drugs were found. Even though no drugs were found, the fact that the specimen was diluted could affect the outcome of the test. Technically, a diluted sample indicates someone may be trying to mask drug use. A second test, often observed, is usually required.
Workplace drug testing laws
While employee drug testing isn’t prohibited in any state, there are varying laws pertaining to acceptable test methods, whether or not an employer has a right to random drug test, and, in light of the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana taking the nation by storm, Nevada and New York City have both enacted laws removing marijuana from pre-employment drug tests.
They take effect in 2020.
It’s wise to know the laws in your state and having a professional look over your policies isn’t a bad idea either. Having everything in writing and abiding the laws of your state guard against the possibility of an HR-related lawsuit down the road.
What drugs can be identified by a urine drug test?
USA Mobile Drug Testing offers our customers a variety of test panels that easily apply to all drug testing methods. Therefore, urine tests identify essentially any type of drug, even specialty drugs such as synthetic marijuana or bath salts.
The human body produces metabolites after using any type of drugs. Lab technicians isolate these biological byproducts, allowing for the detection of drug use. We have a variety of ready-made urine drug tests. They include the 5 panel, 9 panel, 10 panel, and 12 panel drug tests, as well as panels for specialty drug testing.
Moreover, we don’t limit our customers to testing for the drugs we choose. You can remove any drug from the standard test panel and replace it with another. Customers also have the capability of placing additional drugs on the existing panel. You can even create a test panel entirely of your own choosing with no problem at all.
Drugs identified & detection windows
Although the urine drug test won’t identify 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.
The amount of time a drug is detected in the urine varies depending on the drug. Marijuana metabolites, for example, are identified in the urine for just a few days if someone occasionally uses the drug. However, heavy or extended use allows for detection for up to and sometimes over 30 days!
We’ve compiled a list of commonly abused drugs and their detection period when using the urine drug test.
- 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
Employers submit over 55 million drug tests a year for evaluation. The urine drug test accounts for over 90% of them.
Let’s highlight some advantages of urine drug tests:
- Urine drug tests are the most cost-effective employee drug testing method available today.
- Advances in technology make the urine drug test extremely accurate. USA Mobile Drug Testing only uses laboratories certified through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA). This means results are accurate, reliable, and defensible in court.
- Most employees today are at least somewhat familiar with the urine drug test and know what to expect.
- Myths regarding how to pass a urine drug test 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 often result in a negative dilute or inconclusive drug test result.
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 private bathrooms can create bottlenecks within the collection process.
- Due to the privacy requirement, employees skilled in the art of cheating may be able to substitute the specimen.
- 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. If a person fails to provide the required amount for a sample, they must remain at the test site for a predetermined period of time. Employees must return for another attempt with a chance of the same result if the company drug testing policy doesn’t specify an alternative test method under such circumstances.
There are 7 fatal flaws associated with urine drug tests which immediately flag a specimen for disqualification. This results 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 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 fails 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
- There isn’t enough specimen in the container for proper testing procedures.