A non-negative result is received from the laboratory when a substance has been detected on a drug test. It’s important to note that “non-negative” does not mean the same thing as “positive”. A “non-negative” result means that a Medical Review Officer (MRO) interview with the donor is required before reporting the final result to the employer. A “positive” result is the final, adjudicated result that is reported to the employer.
So, what happens when a non-negative result is received by the MRO from the lab? What is the process and how long does it take?
Step 1 – Making Contact
When a non-negative result is reported to the MRO from the lab, the MRO team must establish contact with the donor to conduct an interview.
The MRO must make three attempts to establish contact with the donor in the first 24 hours after receiving the non-negative result from the lab. If after 24 hours, contact has not been established, the MRO can elicit the help of the employer in contacting the donor. Note that per DOT regulation, the MRO must allow up to 10 days for the donor to contact the MRO before reporting a final result to the employer.
Step 2 – The Interview
Once contact has been established with the donor, a MRO (a trained physician) will speak with the donor about their drug test result, a process called an “interview”. The purpose of the interview is to determine if there is a valid medical explanation for why a particular substance was detected. This is the opportunity for the donor to provide any prescription information they have that explains why the drug was detected in their system.
Step 3 – Reporting the Result
Once an interview has been conducted with the donor, the MRO team will report the final result to the employer.
If the MRO determines that there is a valid medical explanation for why a non-negative was reported from the lab, the test will be reported as a negative result to the employer. Note: the employer will not be notified that there was ever a non-negative result – they will only see a negative result.
If the MRO determines that there is not a valid medical explanation for the non-negative result, the final result will be reported to the employer as a positive.
A Note on Turnaround Time
It’s important to know that the non-negative process can greatly increase the turnaround time on a drug test. First, the lab will run a re-confirmation on the result, typically adding 1-2 days in turnaround time. Then, depending on how communicative the donor is with the MRO team, the review process can take up to 10 days.