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Drug Testing

A drug test involves testing a biological sample, such as urine or hair, for the presence of a legal or illegal drug. There are several possible uses for a drug test, the most common of which is for pre-employment screening. The most commonly tested drugs include amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opioids and PCP.

What is a drug test?

A drug test uses a biological sample (such as blood or urine) to detect the presence or absence of a legal or illegal drug. Drug tests are ordered and performed in a variety of settings with a variety of techniques.

Drugs include legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco, as well as over-the-counter medications, prescription medications and illegal substances. A single drug test can’t determine the frequency and intensity of substance use and, thus, can’t distinguish casual substance use from substance use disorders.

Your body metabolizes (breaks down) various drugs at different rates, so the timeframe for detecting certain drugs in your system can be very specific and vary widely from substance to substance.

Urine drug testing (UDT) is the most common test for detecting drugs.

When would I need a drug test?

  • You may need a drug test for several reasons. The most common use of drug testing is in the workplace. Employers may require a drug screening for various reasons, including:

  • Before hiring an applicant.

  • During someone’s employment — an employer may randomly or periodically require drug testing after they hire an employee.

  • When drug use is suspected based on signs and symptoms observed in the workplace.

  • After an employee has an accident or incident while working.

  • Another common use of drug testing is for the diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of alcohol use disorder and substance use disorder. As a tool for monitoring, drug testing can help determine treatment adherence, monitor abstinence and detect early relapse.

  • You may need this testing for court-ordered treatment programs, as a term of probation or while participating in a substance use disorder treatment program.

  • Other uses for drug testing include:

  • Medical testing and diagnostics: People may be tested for drug use to help determine the cause of their symptoms or in emergencies when healthcare providers suspect a potential drug overdose or poisoning.

  • Legal testing: There are several reasons drug testing may be required for legal purposes, including collecting potential evidence of a crime, investigating cases of child abuse or endangerment and determining if a person is under the influence of alcohol or other substances while driving.

  • Monitoring for prescription drug misuse: If you take a prescription drug with high addiction potential and/or the potential for misuse, such as opioids for pain, your provider may request a drug test to check the amount of the drug in your system.

  • Athletic testing: Professional athletes often have to take a drug test to screen for drugs or other substances considered performance-enhancing.

What are the types of drug tests?

  • There are several kinds of drug tests based on the biological sample they use and the types of drugs they detect.

  • Different types of drug tests based on the sample used include:

  • Urine drug testing (UDT): This is the most common drug test. It requires a sample of your urine (pee). Urine drug tests are most commonly used to detect alcohol, amphetamines, benzodiazepines, opiates/opioids, cocaine and marijuana (THC).

  • Blood drug testing: Healthcare providers mainly use this type of test in emergencies. It’s also typically used to detect alcohol (ethanol) levels because it can provide a precise level.

  • Hair follicle drug testing: A hair sample can provide information on substance use over time. Scalp hair has a detection window of three months, while slower-growing body hair has a detection window of up to 12 months. The results can vary based on the characteristics of each person’s hair. Hair testing can detect the use of cocaine, phencyclidine (PCP), amphetamines, opioids and 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA).

  • Breath drug testing: This is primarily used to detect recent alcohol consumption. The result is called a breath alcohol concentration (BrAC). Officials often use it to estimate a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC). However, BrAC can sometimes overestimate or underestimate the BAC. Recent research has focused on the potential use of breath testing for detecting cocaine, marijuana, benzodiazepines, amphetamines, opioids, methadone and buprenorphine.

  • Sweat drug testing: Sweat testing involves wearing an absorbent pad on your skin that’s collected and tested after a certain amount of time. The results provide information on how much of a substance the person consumed over the entire time that they wore the pad. Sweat testing gives a detection window of hours to weeks.

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