Test tubes sit on a table in a lab with other test tubes in the background

Drug Testing: Screening Methods

As a third-party administrator (TPA), InCheck manages drug testing and occupational health programs for many of our clients. The benefits of a personalized appointment scheduling service, consistent reporting through one provider, and bill payment consolidation are some of the main reasons why this service has been so popular over the years. We manage many different types of drug testing and occupational health service programs for a wide variety of employer types across the United States and Canada.

Reasons for drug testing vary from pre-employment to post-accident, and while there are different methods that are used to test for illicit substances, not all of them are equal. This blog takes a closer look at some of the most common screening methods available.

Urine Drug Screen

Urine drug screening is the most commonly used test type. The Department of Transportation requires urine testing for DOT-regulated positions. Lab tests are completed within two to three business days on average, while rapid urine tests are generally completed the same day.

The disadvantage of a urine test is that it is the easiest test to interfere with, whether that means bringing in a fake specimen or adding an adulterant. Some substances, such as cocaine, will only show up in a person’s urine for about 48 hours. Marijuana can be detected via urine for up to a month or so, depending on how heavily the donor uses.

Hair Follicle Test

A hair follicle test can detect substances for over a month after use, but is much more expensive than a urine test. It is much more difficult to interfere with a hair test than a urine test, as the collector removes the hair from the donor’s body, making it impossible to substitute the sample.

The drawback to this test is that candidates may find it invasive, especially when the sample is taken from a head of hair. It takes a few days for substances to show up in hair follicles, so it isn’t useful for post-accident or reasonable suspicion tests, and can’t be used for rapid drug tests.

Oral Fluid/Saliva Test

The most cost-effective drug test is the oral fluid or saliva test. This is the least expensive, as it cuts out the cost of a collection site. Human Resources usually collects the saliva from the candidate, then sends it to a lab for testing.

While this test is also difficult to fake, since the collection is performed by the employer, rather than a trained drug test collector, there’s more potential for human error. We see more oral fluid specimens rejected due to collector error than any other method of screening.

Blood Testing

At this time, we do not have any clients that utilize blood testing. This is partially due to its invasive nature and its short detection window – substances remain in the blood for a very limited time. Blood

tests are also very expensive compared even to hair tests, ranging in the hundreds of dollars, and results can take up to a week. While this test is virtually impossible to fake, and most adulterants are detectable in the blood, the other testing methods described above are considered by most employers to be more useful and cost effective.

Building an Effective Process

Deciding who is contacting the candidate or employee to schedule the test, how much time a person has to take the test, what happens with diluted results… these are just some of the factors you’ll need to review in order to build an effective drug testing and/or occupational health services program with your TPA. We also recommend discussing the various turnaround time scenarios that will undoubtedly occur so you are prepared to manage the process most effectively from the employer side. With increased hiring demands and a tighter candidate market, the need to expedite the onboarding process is being felt now more than ever before. Being educated and informed on drug testing and/or occupational health services program will help you better communicate timelines to hiring managers and cause less stress for the candidate as well.

Disclaimer: This blog is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.