Drug Testing Methods: a Comparison

When crafting a drug-free workplace policy and program it’s important to know the different types of laboratory-based testing options that are available, how they differ, and when they should be used. Below is a summary of the three most prevalent testing methods: Urine, Hair, and Oral Fluid. Each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages – the key is to use the method that makes the most sense for your business and for the specific testing situation.

Urine Test

Urine drug testing is the most prevalent and longest-tenured form of testing. It is the primary testing method for most employers and is the only method currently approved for Department of Transportation (DOT) testing programs. Urine samples are collected by trained specimen collectors, sent to certified laboratories for testing, and reviewed by a Medical Review Officer before being reported to the employer.

Advantages

  • It’s the method approved by the DOT
  • Cost-effective
  • Prevalence of facilities across the country that can perform a urine collection
  • Results are legally defensible
  • Familiarity within the workforce of the urine collection process

Disadvantages

  • Collection is not observed – allows the opportunity for the donor to alter/tamper with their sample and affect the result
  • Collection event can take up to three hours (if the donor needs water to provide a sample)
  • Invasive collection: specific facilities required

How long does it take to receive a result?

  • 24-72 hours

What is the detection window?

  • 1-3 days depending on the drug metabolite detected
  • Detects recent use

Best used for?

  • Post-accident/Reasonable Suspicion testing

What is the cost?

  • $25 to $50
  • Typically the most affordable method of testing

Hair Test

Unlike urine tests, hair tests are not approved for federal (DOT) testing programs, however, employers can choose to perform hair tests at their discretion. Hair samples are collected by trained specimen collectors, sent to certified laboratories for testing, and reviewed by a Medical Review Officer before being reported to the employer.

Advantages

  • Can detect drug use up to 90 days in the past
  • Hair collection is observed – difficult for donor to alter or adulterate their sample
  • Collection event is fast – do not need to wait for donor to produce urine specimen
  • Non-invasive collection: can happen anywhere, no special facilities required

Disadvantages

  • Must adhere to individual state regulation regarding hair testing policies and procedures
  • Most expensive method of testing
  • Does not detect recent use (within the last 7 days)
  • Can be problematic if donor does not have any hair

How long does it take to receive a result?

  • 2-4 days

What is the detection window?

  • 1 week to 90 days
  • Detects habitual/consistent use

Best used for?

  • Pre-employment and random testing

What is the cost?

  • $60 – $80
  • Typically the most expensive method of testing

Oral Fluid Test

Oral fluid testing is the least invasive testing method. Donors insert a swab into the mouth for a short period of time to collect the sample. Once collected, the swab is placed into a tube and shipped to a laboratory. Oral fluid samples are collected by collectors or employer staff, sent to certified laboratories for testing, and reviewed by a Medical Review Officer before being reported to the employer.

Advantages

  • Ease of collection – does not require trained/certified collectors
  • Collection event is fast – do not need to wait for donor to produce urine specimen
  • Non-invasive collection: can happen anywhere, no special facilities required
  • Collection is observed – difficult for the donor to alter or adulterate sample

Disadvantages

  • Must adhere to individual state regulation regarding oral fluid testing policies and procedures
  • Detection window is limited, typically only the past 2 days or less
  • Employers typically must maintain a supply of kits

How long does it take to receive a result?

  • 2-4 Days

What is the detection window?

  • Minutes – 2 days
  • Detects very recent use

Best used for?

  • Post-accident and Random testing

What is the cost?

  • $30 – $50
  • More expensive than urine, less than hair

 

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