Last updated: June 5, 2023
Employers who want to provide a safe workplace drug test. It’s a great deterrent because many employees decide using drugs—even occasionally—isn’t worth risking their job.
It’s a well-known fact that employees who use drugs increase their risk of being involved in an accident. They’re also absent more often.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires employees of the safety-sensitive workforce to submit a urine specimen. The DOT drug test consists of a 5 panel test with an added panel to identify semi-synthetic opioids.
The drugs identified on the DOT drug test are amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates, oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and PCP.
Notably, the DOT recently submitted a request to change the test method from the urine test to the hair follicle test.
Many employers of the general workforce choose to follow the DOT’s example when setting up their own drug testing policies because they are considered to be the drugs found most often in the workplace. Others choose to create their own test using drugs that are commonly abused in their area.
There’s no limit to the number of drugs that can be applied to a drug test.
Manufacturers create “standard” test panels that look for 5, 9, 10, and 12 different drugs. It’s important to note, though, that manufacturers aren’t required to use uniform panels so make sure you know the drugs that are included on yours.
You have the option of removing any of the panels and replacing them with something else.
Some of the drugs detected by drug testing are:
Amphetamines are stimulants that cause the user to feel alert and more aware of what’s going on around them. Physicians often prescribe them for the treatment of ADD, ADHD, and other forms of hyperactivity disorder. They’re used to treat narcolepsy and obesity as well.
If used repeatedly over time, amphetamines can cause tolerance, physical dependence, and addiction. The risk isn’t as great when the drug is prescribed in low doses, but those who abuse the drug increase the dose to achieve the desired effect.
Even though amphetamines are a stimulant, they have a calming effect on those who suffer from hyperactivity. Adderall is a common amphetamine used to treat hyperactivity disorders. Those who have prescriptions often share, trade, or sell the medication. Pills can sell for $25 or more tempting people to use their prescription as a money maker.
Drug abusers often crush the pills and snort them to quickly get the drug into their system.
Amphetamine panels detect Adderall and other forms of the drug, including crystal meth and other methamphetamines.
At the height of their popularity, there were around 50 barbiturates marketed for human use. Physicians only prescribe about 12 today. Barbiturates, also known as benzodiazepine, are used as sedatives, hypnotics, anesthetics, and anticonvulsants. They’re also highly addictive. The withdrawal effects can require hospitalization.
These drugs aren’t as popular in the drug culture as they once were. However, drug abusers use “benzos” to counter the effect of stimulating drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamines.
This family of designer drugs contains synthetic cathinones that are chemically related to the khat plant—a mild stimulant. However, the human-made drug is much stronger and oftentimes, very dangerous.
Synthetic cathinones are unregulated, mind-altering substances that have no legitimate medical use.
Manufacturers introduce and, then, quickly reintroduce the drug to avoid law enforcement’s efforts to keep this drug away from consumers. They come in packaging labeled “not for human consumption” disguised as bath salts, plant food, or phone screen cleaner.
Cocaine users start to feel the effects it as soon as it hits their bloodstream. They experience a sense of euphoria because the brain releases a flood of dopamine. The effects only last about 30 minutes which often leads to frequent use.
Cocaine has a high potential for abuse and addiction. Therefore, manufacturers often include it in their standard drug tests.
This synthetic drug is also known as MDMA. Chemically similar to hallucinogens and stimulants, it alters the user’s awareness of their surroundings producing a distorted sense of time, increased energy, and feelings of pleasure.
The positive vibes coupled with the ability to stay awake make it a popular party drug.
Doctors commonly prescribe fentanyl to treat cancer patients who are experiencing chronic pain. Normally prescribed in patch form and worn on the skin, the drug distributes itself throughout the central nervous system providing long-term pain relief.
Unfortunately, the drug has hit the black market. Because this narcotic is so powerful—it’s 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine—the number of overdose deaths involving fentanyl continues to increase.
Worse, because it’s inexpensive, drug dealers use it to “cut” other drugs to increase their supply. That means that users are often unaware that they are ingesting the drug at all.
Gamma Hydroxybutyrate, “G” for short, is commonly referred to as a “club drug” or “date rape” drug. It depresses the central nervous system.
Teens and young adults commonly abuse this drug often mixing it in alcoholic beverages. It causes feelings of euphoria and tranquility. It has negative effects also. They may include sweating, loss of consciousness, nausea, hallucinations, and amnesia. Users even risk slipping into a coma.
Using heroin in the workplace isn’t easy to hide. Users often experience a side effect commonly referred to as “nodding.”
It remains in the system for just a few hours for those who use infrequently, however, addicts can test positive for up to three months.
K2 or spice
Manufacturers market synthetic cannabinoids as colorful incense labeled “not for human consumption.” The drugs don’t contain any marijuana so those who think they’re purchasing synthetic marijuana are incorrect. The chemicals used to create the drug affect the cannabinoid receptors in the brain.
Instead of feeling relaxed and mellow though, users often experience intense unpleasant effects.
K2 became increasingly popular with high school students and young adults around 2005. It was legal and you could usually find it in your local convenience store or easily purchase it online. The FDA banned synthetic cannabinoids in 2012. Users find them on the black market.
The legalization of marijuana doesn’t mean that it should be taken off of company drug tests. Until there is a test for current impairment, though, employers are stuck in a tough spot.
Marijuana use affects motor and thinking skills—both necessary for performing your job to the best of your ability. However, current test methods identify drug metabolites rather than the parent drug.
Marijuana metabolites remain in the body long after the time of impairment has passed. Advocates for the drug feel it’s unfair to keep marijuana on company drug tests.
A marijuana breathalyzer should be on the market soon. It’s going to make an employer’s job much easier when marijuana legalization can be treated as we do alcohol.
Methadone is an opioid medication that is used to reduce the withdrawal symptoms of heroin or other narcotic drugs. It relieves the addict’s symptoms but the user doesn’t feel “high.”
Methadone is a dangerous drug. People who abuse the drug risk addiction.
It slows breathing and causes dizziness and drowsiness. Nausea, vomiting, and increased sweating are also side effects of the drug. Methadone can cause life-threatening heart rhythm disorders as well.
Opiates are narcotics derived from the opium poppy which is widely grown in Afghanistan. Codeine and morphine are narcotic drugs and heroin is a by-product of morphine.
Opiates are highly addictive. Users must increase the dosage to achieve the desired effect which puts them at risk of an overdose.
PCP or angel dust
Phencyclidine produces feelings of euphoria and an extreme sense of calm for some users. Others experience hallucinations, become combative, and exhibit bizarre behavior.
Low doses of the drug produce numbness in the extremities and intoxication. High doses of PCP can lead to convulsions or even death.
Signs of use are staggering, an unsteady gait, slurred speech, and loss of balance.
This mild pain reliever was pulled from the market in 2010. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) determined that the side effects were too risky for mild relief. The drug has a high risk of potentially fatal heart problems even when taken in recommended doses.
The drug is available on the black market.
Users experience a feeling of elation, but it’s accompanied by other side effects that aren’t as pleasant, such as dizziness, dry mouth, headaches, vomiting, and blurred vision.
These pain-relieving drugs are derived from naturally occurring opiates and opium alkaloids. They were heavily prescribed by physicians for years. Then, it was discovered that they are extremely addictive because users form both a physical and psychological dependence on these drugs.
They’re an expensive habit to maintain and addicts often turn to heroin as a cheaper alternative.
The drugs are marketed under various brand names.
- Hydrocodone is sold under the trade names Vicodin, Lortab, Lorcet-HD, and Vicoprofen.
- Hydromorphone is sold under the trade name Dilaudid. It’s known on the street as Dust, Juice, Smack, D, or Footballs.
- Oxycodone, when mixed with aspirin, is sold as Percodan. Percocet is a form of oxycodone that is mixed with acetaminophen. Other trade names include Oxycontin and Percolone
- Oxymorphone is distributed under the name Opana.
Semi-synthetic opioids affect the user in the same manner that other opiate drugs do. They relieve pain and also create feelings of relaxation and euphoria.
Unless regulated by the DOT or another government entity, employers are free to choose which type of drug test to use for employee drug testing.
Employers rarely use the blood test for employee drug testing other than in the sports industry. They’re extremely invasive and expensive as well.
Nonetheless, employers often reserve a blood test for post-accident situations. Blood tests identify the parent drug rather than drug metabolites which indicates current impairment. This can be very useful information in determining where responsibility for the accident lies.
The amount of time that drugs are identifiable is dependent on the drug itself.
The urine test is the most widely used employee drug test on the market. Over 90% of the 55 million drug tests performed in 2015 were urine drug tests. It’s the most cost-effective test on the market and provides accurate results.
However, because the test requires the privacy of a restroom, drug abusers have the opportunity to tamper with the specimen in some way. Some substitute the specimen with synthetic urine or even use a friend’s urine who doesn’t do drugs.
Many products claim to “cleanse” the body of “toxins.” That’s code for masking or removing drug metabolites from the body. These claims are false.
The instructions for these products include drinking specific amounts of water. When followed exactly, they may allow someone to slip through the drug test undetected.
However, due to the advances in drug testing technology and the increased sensitivity of laboratory equipment, it’s getting harder and harder for anyone to squeak by. Diluted specimens alert employers to the fact that someone may be trying to mask drug use.
There are two diluted results.
- A positive dilute identified drugs in the diluted specimen.
- The negative dilute result didn’t identify drugs in the diluted specimen.
The amount of time that drugs are detected in the urine is specific to the individual drug. Chronic marijuana smokers, for example, can test positive for over 45 days after discontinuing use.
Hair follicle test
The hair follicle drug test identifies any and all drug use for a ninety-day period. This fact is causing more and more employers to consider overlooking the added expense of the test.
Human hair grows about one-half inch per month.
Drug metabolites grow out into the hair shaft becoming a part of the hair itself. Theoretically, that means that they remain in the hair forever. However, the test only requires using one and one-half inches of hair which equals the ninety-day period.
The test is the least invasive of all employee drug tests.
Mouth swab test
Some call the mouth swab test an oral fluids test. It doesn’t require any privacy so it’s impossible to falsify the test.
“Passing” the test by using special mouthwashes, specific kinds of toothpaste, or mints created to mask drug use don’t work. The body is constantly producing saliva which contains drug metabolites.
A mouth swab placed between the test subject’s lower cheek and gum remains until saturated with saliva. The test usually takes no more than 5 minutes to complete, but if someone suffers from dry mouth, it can take longer.
The detection period is drug-specific.
Employee drug testing is beneficial in more ways than one. It deters drug use, promotes safety in the workplace, and saves employers money lost due to lowered productivity, health insurance costs, and absenteeism.
It also gives employers a chance to identify drug abuse which in turn allows them the chance to urge the employee to seek help. Someone might refuse to acknowledge the pleas of a family member or friend, but when faced with losing their job due to their drug use, they may finally make the choice to reach out.