What is a Drug Screen?

By Morgan Grant | 02/26/2018

A drug screen (also called a drug test) is the collection and analysis of blood, urine, hair, or saliva to detect the presence of the chemicals and contaminants left behind in the body due to drug use. A drug screen may also be used to detect performance enhancing drugs sometimes used by professional athletes such as steroids and HGH. From professionally executed drug screens used by employers to keep a drug-free workplace, to at-home drug screens used by anyone trying to monitor drug usage in the household, many different types exist for multiple purposes.

Main Types of Drug Screens

Urine Drug Screen

Urine drug screens are the most popular, making up 95% of the pre-employment tests conducted in the U.S. This is due to its low cost and simple collection process. The specimen collection usually happens at a clinic or testing facility, and the sample is then sent to a lab for screening. Depending on the type of panel test (4-13), the results will show either false or positive for a specific set of drugs.

Here are what some of the panels test for:

  • 4-panel drug test – THC, cocaine, opiates, and methamphetamine
  • 5-panel drug test (most used by employers) – Amphetamines, cannabinoids, cocaine, opioids, and phencyclidine

Additional panels can test for other substances like: benzodiazepines, barbiturates, buprenorphine, methadone, propoxyphene, methaqualone, THC, PCP, oxycodone, tricycle antidepressants, and Quaaludes.

Saliva Drug Screen

This drug screen uses a less invasive collection process involving a simple swab of the mouth. However, the drug detection period is shorter than a urine drug screen. For example, the window of detection for THC in the saliva is only 7-21 hours. The substances tested for during a saliva drug screen include: marijuana, cocaine, opiates, alcohol, amphetamine, methamphetamine, (including ecstasy), and PCP.

Blood Testing

Blood testing is the least popular of the drug screen methods, due to its invasiveness, short detection window, and high price tag. Only 6% of pre-employment drug tests conducted in 2015 were blood tests. However, blood tests are useful for detecting impairment on the job. Unlike urine, which takes several days to show toxins, a blood test can reveal toxins within minutes. Blood testing also gives the ability to measure the specific amount of illegal substance in a person’s system. The substances tested in a blood test include: ethyl alcohol, amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cocaine and metabolite, phencyclidine, THC, opiates, oxycodone, methadone, fentanyl, buprenorphine, propoxyphene, meperidine, tramadol, gabapentin, and carisoprodol.

Hair Testing

A strand of hair acts as a timeline of a person’s substance intake history. Someone could have used marijuana months ago, yet through hair testing, the substance would still be detected. This is because the metabolites left behind by drug use are left in the blood, filtered through the blood vessels in the scalp, and permanently stay within the hair follicle. Although not a popular form of testing due to the high price tag (ranging around $100 per test), it’s useful as a backup to urine testing in certain situations. The substances tested include: amphetamines, opiates, cocaine, marijuana, phencyclidine, barbiturates, and expanded opiates (oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone).

Why Drug Test?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conducted a study in 2005 that found that, “of the 17.2 million illicit drug users aged 18 or older in 2005, 12.9 million (74.8 percent) were employed either full or part time.” They also found that 10-20% of work-related fatalities test positive for drug or alcohol. And 40% of all industrial workplace fatalities are caused by a substance abuser.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re an employer or employee – these findings should be of some concern. As an employee, you want to feel safe and secure at your job. As the employer, you have a responsibility in making that happen. Keeping your workplace drug-free through pre-employment screenings and even random testing is the best way to do so.

If you’re an employer looking to take the next steps in protecting your workplace through pre-employment drug screens, consider Concentra. We’ll help you decide the type of testing you need depending on your industry and customize a test for your workforce. To act against drug usage in your workplace, talk to a Concentra specialist today.