At a glance
Why get tested?
To detect or exclude the presence of abused and/or illegal drugs. This may be carried out for a number of reasons including a pre-employment screen or to comply with a drug rehabilitation programme.
When to get tested?
- If you apply for a job where drug screens are carried out as a routine. Personnel with drug and alcohol problems have worse records for accidents and absenteeism; for this reason many employers screen all job applicants prior to appointment
- If you have admitted having a drug problem and have enrolled in a detoxification or drug rehabilitation scheme
- If you believe you may have taken a drug accidentally or been given a drug without consent (e.g. drink spiking)
- If you are admitted to hospital in an emergency and doctors think that your treatment could be improved if drug abuse could be proved or excluded
- If you take part in a sport at a professional level
- If you are suspected of driving under the influence of a drug of abuse
- For legal reasons (e.g. child custody cases, parole).
A random urine sample is often collected for detection of drugs of abuse although collection of saliva is common in on-site employment testing and drugs in driving testing. Drugs can also be detected in blood, sweat and hair samples.
What is being tested?
The presence of various classes of abused drugs can be tested for. This usually consists of an initial screen where the potential presence of a drug group (e.g. opiates) is detected; positive results are then followed up by a more specific test which identifies the individual drug taken (e.g. morphine).
A drugs of abuse 'screen' usually covers the most commonly abused drug classes which are the heroin-related opiates, benzodiazepines, cannabinoids, amphetamine-type drugs (including ecstasy) and cocaine. Drugs used in the treatment of opiate addiction (methadone and buprenorphine) are also sometimes searched for.
Many other drugs which affect brain function, both therapeutic and illicit, may not be amenable to a rapid screening test but can be identified by more complex testing. These include opioids (fentanyl, tramadol, pethidine), antidepressants and antipsychotics (mirtazepine, quetiapine), sedatives (zolpidem), anaesthetics (ketamine, propofol) and the so-called “synthetic cannabinoids” and “synthetic amphetamines”.
How is the sample collected for testing?
For pre-employment testing, rehabilitations, hospital admission, and many legal purposes, a random urine sample is usually collected for detection of drugs of abuse. If there are any legal implications of the outcome of the test you may be asked to provide a supervised collection.
For on-site employment testing (random, targeted or incident testing), saliva testing has become very common, although urine collection is also still prevalent. Testing for alcohol (ethanol) is normally done using a breathalyser in this context.
Blood may be collected where significant legal consequences may follow such as sexual assault and driving under the influence of drugs.
Hair is usually collected where detection of drugs is required over an extended period of time (months to years).