The Drug Testing Cocktail: Types and Programs

  • By Mark Ridgeway
  • 09 Aug, 2017
employee drug testing

According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health , 8.9% of full-time employees and 12.5% of part- time employees are illicit drug users. In fact, the survey showed that 67.9% of illicit drug users aged 18 or older are employed.

Employee Substance Abuse is Pricey

The costs associated with employee substance abuse quickly accumulate for employers. The financial impact on businesses include reduced productivity, lower morale, higher absenteeism rates, employee theft and injuries or fatalities in the workplace. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence estimates that drug abuse costs employers $81 billion every year.

Methods and Types

There are several methods for drug screening, including testing urine, oral fluids and hair for traces of illegal substances. Each option offers benefits, and your screening provider can help determine which method is best for your applicant pool and organization.

Urine testing is the most popular method and can detect recent use up to 7 days. Oral fluid testing uses saliva to test for drug use within the past 24 to 36 hours. Hair testing provides employers with a much longer history of up to 90 days, and can identify habitual patterns of regular drug users.

If you are new to drug testing, you might be wondering which drugs the tests include. Drug testing is typically administered by a “panel”, which is a bundling of common drugs of abuse. For example, urine testing is typically five, seven, nine or ten panel, depending on the provider. Saliva and hair testing are usually five or six panels depending on the provider. A panel, therefore, refers to the drugs or analytes being tested for and can include:

• Amphetamines and Methamphetamines

• Cocaine Metabolites

• Marijuana Metabolites

• Opiates

• Phencyclidine

• Barbiturates

• Benzodiazepines

• Methadone

• Propoxyphene


Most drug screening providers offer both laboratory and on-site testing, which can be used in different situations. 

Many employers use laboratory-based testing for pre-employment (new hires) and post-hire situations, such as reasonable suspicion, post-accident, and random selection. Some employers also opt for onsite testing, which could include use of a self-administered instant testing device or having a qualified collector come to the employer’s premises to collect specimens for testing.

Interpreting The Results

Terminology can also trip up employers who are new to drug screening. Typically, a “positive” result means that illicit drugs were found in the specimen, and a “negative” result means that no substance included in the employer’s testing panel was found.

A “negative” result can also be reported when legal use of a detected substance has been determined. However, there are also instances when a “positive” result can be reported without the individual having taken any drugs. For example, if an individual consumed poppy seeds, their drug test may be positive for opiates.

As a best practice, “non-negative” laboratory results should be reviewed by a Medical Review Officer (MRO) to identify potential false positives, legal use of substances, and if there may have been an attempt to cheat a drug test.

Recognizing the costly effects of substance abuse in the workplace, employers routinely rely on drug testing to help weed out illicit drug users from their hiring pool, and deter current employees from participating in drug use on the job. By implementing a compliant drug-free workplace program, organizations can protect themselves from the negative effects of employee drug use.







The CHC Blog

By Mark Ridgeway 10 Nov, 2017
Conducting background screening and having a practical screening program are not the same thing. Whether you are new to screening or want to move from “screening” to “sensible screening,” it is important to understand four fundamentals of employment screening.  
  1. Not all information is available instantly.  Despite online offerings to the contrary, a quality background check will generally take one to three business days to complete and, in some cases, longer. The U.S. Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)  requires a screening company to “follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy.” This means searches must often be conducted at the source, such as a school, courthouse, state licensing bureau or a previous employer.
  2. National criminal databases are not definitive sources.   Commercial (non-governmental) databases are often advertised as “national,” but this is a misnomer. These databases are developed by purchasing criminal records from numerous sources and using techniques like screen scraping and web harvesting to capture records. These massive databases often contain up to a half billion records. They do not contain all criminal records in the U.S., because some sources will not sell a copy of records or allow records to be captured. Additionally, records within the database may be incomplete or not reflect the current record status
  3. The subject of the background check is part of the process.   Per the FCRA , the subject of the background check must know about and authorize the background check before it is requested from the screening company. The subject has the right to a copy of the report and must have an opportunity to dispute inaccurate information in the report before an employment decision is made.
  4. Employment screening is heavily regulated.   Federal, state and even local law govern the preparation and use of background reports when prepared by a third party, like an employment screening company. These laws and regulations are applicable even if the background report contains only public record information, such as criminal records.
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