The P’s and Q’s Of Different Types Of Drug Testing

Most employers understand the importance of drug testing to prevent accidents that can injure people or property. Work related accidents resulting in employee injuries should include a drug test as part of the immediate medical care.


Most private employers have a legal right to test for a wide variety of drugs. This can be complicated when there is a union. It is important that before designing a drug-testing program that an employer knows the various state and federal laws that apply to them. For more information about various state drug testing laws see


A drug test involves taking a biological specimen and having it analyzed for the presence or absence of specific drugs or their metabolites, the products of metabolism. The biological specimen can be urine, blood, hair, saliva or even sweat.





Federal agencies conducting drug testing must follow procedures established by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. More detailed information about drug testing is available from


The five substances tested in federal drug-testing programs are:


• Cannabinoids (marijuana, hash)

• Cocaine (cocaine, crack, benzoylecognine)

• Amphetamines (amphetamines, methamphetamines, speed)

• Opiates (heroin, opium, codeine, morphine)

• Phencyclidine (PCP)



Blood Test


A blood drug test is more accurate than the testing of urine. The blood sample is drawn from the employee, labeled and sent to the laboratory where it is placed in a centrifuge where the blood plasma and blood cells are separated. The plasma is then tested for the presence of illicit drugs. Blood testing is not commonly used as it is considered more intrusive and is expensive. However, it is considered the most accurate drug test.



Urine Drug Screen


The most common drug test is the urine drug screen called urinalysis. This typically involves collecting a urine specimen in a cup specifically designed for this purpose. The cup comes with a cap that seals. The cap is sealed with tamper resistant tape. A label with the either the employee’s name or a unique number is used to identify from whom the specimen was obtained. The urine specimen is delivered to the screening laboratory.



How Urinalysis Is Performed


To perform the test, a specimen is split into half. The first half goes into an analyzer that measures the presence or concentration of a substance in the urine. If the test shows the presence of a drug, the second half of the urine is test using a gas chromatography method. This means that they separate the urine into the various substances within it. The test results are then reviewed by a physician for confirmation. If the test results are negative, the employer is advised. If the test results are positive, the employee is contacted to see if there is any valid reason for the test result to be positive, e.g. use of a prescription drug.


A urine drug test has a longer detection window of time then a blood test. Urine tests are accurate for cannabis for at least three to seven days. However, they may be valid up to 30 days for heavy users or users with high body fat. Urine tests are accurate for cocaine for at least two to five days. Urine tests are accurate for amphetamines for at least one to five days, except for methamphetamine that is accurate for three to 15 days. Urine tests are accurate for codeine for two to three days and heroin for three to four days. They are accurate for PCP for three to seven days for a single use, but up to 30 days for chronic users.



Drawbacks of Blood and Urine Tests


Most illicit drug users know that urine and blood tests are accurate for only recent use and may try to delay their drug testing until their body has eliminated the drugs. Time is not the only factor that determines whether the drug test will reflect recent drug use. Factors include the type of drug used, the person’s body mass, metabolic rate, age, overall health, the amount and frequency of use, and their urine pH. Some drug users may try to flush the drugs out of their system by drinking copious amounts of water or detox drinks they can buy over the internet. There are also users who may try to pass off someone else’s urine as their own and various devices such as “the whizzinator” to try to help them accomplish this.



Hair Stat Test


In the last decade the use of hair in laboratory test for the detection of illicit drugs has developed into a reliable forensic toxicology method that has general been approved by courts. Once ingested, cannabinoids, cocaine, amphetamines and opiates are metabolized by the body. Their breakdown products enter the hair root where they are deposited and remain until the hair grows out and is cut off or the hair falls out. Except for the abuse of alcohol, hair is considered a very reliable indicator of illicit drug use up to 90 days after the drug was ingested. To perform the test a small amount of hair is cut off very close to the root. Some drug users have attempted to get around the test by dying their hair.



Sweat Patch


One method that courts and probation offices use to test for drugs is called the sweat patch. It is an adhesive patch similar to a nicotine patch that the user will typically wear for a week that will measure whether drugs are present in a person’s sweat. These have been the subject of court challenges.


According to the Tennessee Department of Labor, thirty-eight to fifty percent of all workers compensation claims are related to substance abuse. How the illicit use of drugs will impact the work comp claim varies tremendously from state to state. In approximately 40 states the employee’s workers compensation benefits can be denied or reduced for being under the influence of drugs at the time of accident.



Author Rebecca Shafer, JD, President of Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. is a national expert in the field of workers compensation. She is a writer, speaker, and publisher. Her expertise is working with employers to reduce workers compensation costs, and her clients include airlines, healthcare, printing/publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality, and manufacturing. She is the author of the #1 selling book on cost containment, Workers Compensation Management Program: Reduce Costs 20% to 50%.
Editor Michael B. Stack, CPA, Principal, Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. is an expert in employer communication systems and part of the Amaxx team helping companies reduce their workers compensation costs by 20% to 50%. He is a writer, speaker, and website publisher. Contact:

©2014 Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.





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