Lab technician wearing white coat and gloves testing urine

What is a Drug Screen?

By Morgan Grant |

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. Many different types of drug screens exist for multiple purposes.

Main Types of Drug Screens

Urine Drug Screen

Urine drug screens are the most popular, making up 95% of the employment drug screenings conducted in the United States. Its popularity 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 screen – THC, cocaine, opiates, and methamphetamine
  • 5-panel drug screen (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 test uses a less invasive collection process involving a swab of the mouth. However, the drug detection period is shorter than a urine drug screen test. For example, the window of detection for THC in 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 Drug Screening

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 also 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 an 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 drug 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 drug screening due to the high price tag (ranging around $100 per test), it can act 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.

As an employer, you have a responsibility in ensuring a safe workplace for your employees. Keeping your workplace drug-free through pre-employment screenings and random testing is one of the best ways to do so.

If you’re an employer looking to take the next steps in protecting your workplace through 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 substance abuse in your workplace, talk to a Concentra expert today.