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What Drugs to Test Employees For

drugs employers test for

As a business owner it can be hard to decide what drugs to test employees for. Different regions have different drug problems and considerations, but there may be a one size fits all solution. When deciding what drugs to test employees for you should consider these factors:

  • What drugs are popular in the area of operation?
  • Are any drugs popular in your industry?
  • Which drugs have the most potential to negatively affect your business?
  • Which drugs can be tested for legally, economically and effectively?
  • What tests are available that are accurate and cost effective?

Most Popular Drugs Among Employees

Most popular illegal drug used in the workplace is recreational Marijuana. Over 20% of respondents of the survey admitted to using recreational marijuana during work hours. The second most common class of drug used during work hours was opiate painkillers.

Overall drug use mirrors these findings, with 4.2 million Americans reporting marijuana use and 1.8 million admitting to using prescription pain relievers in a 2013 study conducted by the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

Substances Used at Work
This graph from shows that besides alcohol marijuana is the most commonly abused drug on the job.


Over the last decade more people with full time employment have admitted to marijuana and prescription painkiller use than all other classes of drugs combined. The effects of most prescription painkillers are mild enough that employees can use them undetected.

Common Drug Tests Employers Use

The most common instant drug test used by employers in the US is the 12 Panel Drug Test Cup. There are currently only 13 drugs that have CLIA waivers available for rapid testing, so a 12 or 13 panel cup offers the most number of tests while staying in compliance for state and federal guidelines.

Many will use a Fentanyl strip (FYL) and ETG (alcohol) strip in addition to a CLIA waived 12 panel cup. These tests are for forensic use and any indication of a positive should be sent to a lab for confirmation. The fentanyl test is becoming more popular because it is commonly being used in fake pharmaceuticals and mixed with heroin to increase its potency.

Having a CLIA waived test is important because other tests will be considered high complexity and will have no legal standing whatsoever in the majority of workplaces.

CLIA Waived Drug Test Strips

  • Marijuana (THC)
  • Cocaine (COC)
  • Opiates (OPI)
  • Amphetamines (AMP)
  • Methamphetamines (MET)
  • Benzodiazepines (BZO)
  • Ecstasy (MDMA)
  • Methadone (MTD)
  • Oxycodone (OXY)
  • Buprenorphine (BUP)
  • Barbiturates (BAR)
  • Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCA)
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)

Some organizations must adhere to recommendations published by certain branches of the federal government. In the 1990s the NIDA required testing for at least 5 types of drugs to meet the requirements to be a “Drug Free Workplace”. These drugs became known as the NIDA 5 and have since been considered the bare minimum for employer drug testing.

If an organization depends on government contracts or is contracted directly with the federal government you should consult the NIDA, SAMHSA, and Drug Free Workplace acts.

At the very minimum a company should test for the 5 illicit drugs in the NIDA 5. Since it is so cost effective, there isn’t a good reason to not upgrade to the 12 panel test cup and screen for more drugs.

NIDA 5 Drug Tests

  1. Marijuana (THC)
  2. Cocaine (COC)
  3. Opiates (OPI)
  4. Amphetamines (AMP)
  5. Phencyclidine (PCP)

In the years since the NIDA 5 was released pharmaceuticals and drugs such as methamphetamine have become much more popular while PCP has fallen out of use almost entirely. Most drug testing programs have implemented changes to reflect that.

Which Drugs Have the Biggest Effect on Business

As previously mentioned in 11 Reasons Why Employers Drug Test, the average drug user has 50% more absences than a regular employee. Employees with a prescription painkiller addiction miss 200% more often than a regular employee. When it comes to turnover 25% of people employed full time have had another employer in the previous year. 36% of average drug users have had another employer in the previous year, but that number climbs to 42% for people with a prescription painkiller addiction.

Over the course of employment opiate users cost a business more consistently, but users of drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine are prone to have major incidents that have tremendous immediate and long term effects on a business.

Which Drug Tests Are Effective

You will notice that alcohol is often listed as the most abused drug by full time employees. There are tests that can detect alcohol, but the detection period is approximately 12 hours. Since alcohol is legal an employee that had a drink the night before isn’t technically doing anything wrong. Alcohol is also easily detected by coworkers if an employee is drinking on the job without the use of a test.

Synthetic opiates do not consistently show up on Opiate assays so Oxycodone, methadone, buprenorphine and fentanyl have their own specific tests.

In regions where pharmaceutical abuse is high these tests are almost always included in an employer drug test, but in some areas the number of people using prescription drugs legally outweighs those using illegally and companies see these as a nuisance to continuously cross check. 

It is also much easier for an employee to obtain a prescription for narcotics in areas with lower rates of prescription drug abuse.

Legal Drug Use and Acceptable Use

Besides having a short detection period, alcohol is widely used legally by employees outside of work hours. It’s more culturally acceptable to drink alcohol than to abuse other illegal drugs.

Marijuana is gaining legal status in many states and is becoming more culturally acceptable in the US with every passing year. New York city recently passed a law that made it illegal to test for recreational marijuana use on a pre employment drug test.


NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams
New York City’s public advocate Jumaane Williams helped the resolution to ban pre employment drug testing for THC pass the City Council. The ban went into effect in March 2020.


Responsible alcohol use outside of work hours is usually considered a private matter. As marijuana becomes legal in more jurisdictions companies will need to look at their specific laws and situation and determine how to best address drug testing for THC going forward. If your company’s roles require employees to be brand ambassadors 24/7 it might be important to have a drug and alcohol policy that extends to an employee’s personal time.

What is the Best Solution for Employer Drug Testing?

We believe the best solution is to use rapid urine screens for pre-employment and random drug testing and use confirmations for any employee that has a positive result. You can also ask employees that admit to drug use to sign a waiver to save the cost of a confirmation.

This will keep drug testing costs low (our 12 panel drug tests are $2.70 per cup shipped when bought in bulk) while also having a very efficient and accurate drug testing policy. With a CLIA waived test almost any employee can conduct the test. By following on site drug testing guidelines you can eliminate most adulteration and reduce the cost of keeping your business drug free.



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What if My Drug Test Results Come Back Positive?

drug test results come back positive

So you were given a drug test a recently and when the results came back your were positive for one or more drugs. You may have suspected they would, or in rare cases it’s a total surprise. What should you expect and what should you do when your drug test results come back positive?

Don’t Freak Out When Your Drug Test Results Come Back Positive

A positive drug test is not the end of the world. The first thing to do is settle your mind. You don’t need additional stress and worrying will have no effect on the outcome.

Consequences are hardly ever as severe as people think but people have done many things they regret immediately after receiving bad news. The worst thing you can do is continue using drugs.

What are the consequences of Failing a Drug Test?

Depending on what your drug test was for consequences can range from nothing to prison time. In the vast majority of cases people overestimate the consequences of failing a drug test, and in other cases they are extremely positive about the outcome.

Unless someone has firsthand experience or knows someone that has been through the exact process with very similar circumstances they will rarely have a totally accurate idea of the consequences of failing a drug test. Here are some likely scenarios by case.


If you fail your probation drug test it will most likely be sent to a lab for confirmation giving you several days to worry. The consequences of a failed drug test will be different depending on your original crime, your time on probation, the drugs you failed for and your probation officer’s own discretion.

In most cases someone that has done well for a while and has their first infraction will be referred to a drug counselor and may be asked to attend rehab after an assessment. For someone that has failed multiple tests however you could have your probation revoked. People that do go to jail for a failed probation drug test often get out sooner than expected.

Pre Employment Testing

If you fail a drug test when applying for a job 99% of the time you will not be hired and that will be the end of it. Many employers have a statute about how long a failed drug test will affect hiring, so you may be able to re apply in 6 months to 1 year.

Random Drug Testing At Work

Many employers do random drug testing to comply with federal guidelines and meet insurance requirements. For small businesses the result of a positive drug test will mostly be up to the discretion of the owner and your work history and importance will likely play a big part in how it turns out.

Larger corporations almost always have a drug treatment policy where employees that have a positive drug screen are given the opportunity to attend treatment and accept terms of a more strenuous testing program to continue their employment. A violation of this program will usually result in termination.

Post Accident Drug Test

Employers are required to do a post accident drug test of all involved parties when an on the job accident occurs that causes serious injury or death. This is probably one of the most serious drug tests. You and your company could face lawsuits and even jail time for negligence or manslaughter.

If you drive a vehicle or work around dangerous equipment, consider this before taking drugs even outside of work.

Medical Patient

Healthcare facilities drug test patients for many reasons. The most common is when prescribing narcotics. These tests are to inform the doctor about any drugs you may take or addictions you may have and depending on your treatment you may get a prescription anyway. In most cases during a healthcare screening you need to show positive for any drugs you are prescribed and negative for any other drugs. Any other result is a good reason for your Doctor to withhold a prescription or even discharge you from care.

What to Do If Your Drug Test Comes Back Positive

If your drug test comes back positive the first question you need to ask yourself is why you failed the test. If you used drugs accept that it’s your fault and admit guilt; probation officers and employers are more likely to help if you are honest and they will know you’re lying when the confirmation comes back.

If you have not used drugs you should request a confirmation. Make a list of all the medications you have taken in the last month and a list of any unusual foods you may have consumed. Educate yourself about false positives on a drug test and stay confident that it will be worked out at the lab.

If someone was injured you should retain legal counsel and not answer any questions unless instructed to by your lawyer. You should get a quantitative blood screen as soon as possible to document the levels of any drugs in your system. You may be able to use this as evidence in court if your impairment was truly not the cause of the accident.

Immediately quit taking drugs. In many cases you will face suspension or other consequences until you can pass a drug test.

If you have a drug problem seek help. The longer you use drugs the harder it is to quit and there are many benefits to living a drug free life.

The consequences for trying to tamper with a drug test are usually more severe in the legal system and healthcare, and identical to failing in an employment setting. Never attempt to adulterate a test because it will negate any opportunity for leniency or forgiveness.

Dealing With Positive Drug Tests

I cannot stress enough that failing a drug test is not the end of the world and in most cases the consequences are never as dire as people expect.

For organizations and individuals giving drug tests I would like to remind you that everyone deserves respect and just because someone fails a drug test does not make them a bad person. They are likely under a lot of stress and you can really help their state of mind by being understanding. Please do not use drug testing as a tool for personal revenge.

For anyone taking a drug test I’d like to remind you that the person in charge of your test is just doing their job and following procedure. They do not want to see you fail a drug test and it causes them a lot of stress knowing that you may lose your job or suffer other consequences as part of their job.



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11 Reasons Why Employers Drug Test

why do employers drug test

Why do employers drug test applicants? Even though the benefits are obvious to most, job seekers often ask us about the reasons drug testing has become ubiquitous. Here are 11 benefits employers and employees gain from drug testing.

Reasons Why Employers Drug Test

  1. Productivity
  2. Safety
  3. Insurance Purposes
  4. Reputation
  5. Encourage Drug Users to Seek Help
  6. Encourage Drug Users to Stay Clean
  7. Lower Costs
  8. Avoid Lawsuits
  9. Gather Evidence
  10. Improve Work Environment
  11. Avoid Drug Related Incidents


At the end of the day running a business is about making money. It boils down to taking raw materials, adding labor and creating a marketable product that people want. Anything a company can do to increase the amount of work that is completed in the same amount of time will increase profits.

According to the National Safety Council workers with a substance abuse disorder miss 50% more days than average workers, and workers with pain medication use disorder miss 300% more days.

Absenteeism by drug users
An older study showed a 59.3% increase in absences that became progressively worse as time went on.


In extreme cases opiate users will sleep on the job. Drug use makes employees inconsistent at best, and downright dangerous and counterproductive in some cases.

A classic study outlined in “Under The Influence? Drugs in the American Workforce.” found that identified drug users had a 64% higher rate of receiving disciplinary warnings and were 5 times as likely to receive poor performance evaluations from their supervisors.

Negative work performance of drug users
This graph from “An Evaluation of Pre Employment Drug Testing” published in the Journal of Applied Psychology showed applicants with a positive pre employment drug screen had significantly higher disciplinary infractions all around.

An employee that uses drugs will often use on the job. Their breaks are longer and they take longer to regain focus when returning. You also need to contend with the possibility of days when the employee has taken too much drugs and days when they are suffering withdrawal. Most recovering drug addicts admit that withdrawal made them useless at work. Employees that have a prescription for a narcotic drug avoid many of the ways drug use can affect production, but are still subject to negative impacts caused by the effects of the drug.


One of the primary reasons employers why drug test is because of worker safety. A study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that 77% of drug users were employed full or part time. Drug users are 3.6 times more likely to injure themselves or a coworker in an on the job accident. They’re 5 times more likely to file a workers compensation claim.

Opioids can impair thinking and reaction time. Marijuana has been proven to affect reaction time and short term memory. Stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine affect self awareness and risk analysis. All drugs affect an individual’s capacity for judgement.

Rates of Substance Abuse by industry
A 2017 study suggested substance abuse costs employers $100 billion annually. These figures show rates of substance abuse across industries.


Insurance purposes

Some employers drug test because they have to. Many insurance companies will not even sell insurance to an organization that doesn’t have an employee drug use policy in place. Some types of insurance offer a discount for organizations that have a strict and extensive policy regarding employee drug use.

Anyone company that receives a federal grant or is contracted by the federal government is required to maintain a drug free workplace which is outlined in the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988. Several states offer a discount on workers compensation premiums to companies that maintain the same guidelines. These States are:

State Discounts for A Drug-Free Work Place 

As of October 2018, 13 states had laws that provide a discount on workers compensation insurance to employers that implement a drug-free workplace.

    • Alabama codes §25-5-330 – §25-5-340 provides a five percent discount to employers that establish a drug-free workplace.
    • Arkansas code §11-14-101-112, employers with drug-free workplace programs may qualify for a five percent discount on workers’ compensation premiums.
    • Florida State code §440.102 provides a five percent reduction in premiums to employers that implement and maintain an insurer-certified drug-free workplace program in accordance with the standards set forth in the Act.
    • Georgia §33-9-40.2 & §34-9-412 provides a 7.5 percent discount on workers compensation premiums to employers that have implemented a drug-free workplace program that is certified by the state Board of Workers’ Compensation. Employers must submit their certificate to their insurer annually.
    • Idaho Sections 72-1701 through 72-1716 of the Idaho code provide that public employers who conduct drug and alcohol testing of all current and prospective employees shall qualify for and may be granted an employer Workers’ Compensation premium reduction.
    • Kentucky State regulations 803 KAR 25.280 allow employers that implement a drug-free workplace program a 5% reduction of their insurance premium.
    • Mississippi Under Mississippi Code, Sections 71-3-201 through 71-3-225, employers that establish a drug-free workplace program may submit an application to their insurer for a 5 percent reduction in their workers’ compensation premium.
    • Ohio Program established via O.A.C. 4123-17-58. Employers may enroll in the Drug-Free Safety Program offered by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. Employers that fulfill the requirements may receive a discount of four to seven percent on their workers compensation premium.
    • New York Part 60 of Sect. 134 of WC created the Workplace Safety and Loss Prevention Incentive Program. Employers with an experience modifier of less than 1.30 and an annual WC premium of at least $5,000 are eligible for a voluntary program. They may receive a separate credit (typically 2%) for each of the following: safety, return-to-work, and drug and alcohol prevention.
    • South Carolina §38-73-500 provides 5 percent discount on workers compensation premiums to employers that voluntarily establish a drug-free workplace program.
    • Tennessee State codes §50-9-101 to §50-9-114 provide a 5 percent discount on premiums if employers establish a drug-free workplace program as outlined in the law.
    • Virginia §65.2-813.2 provides a 5 percent premium discount for employers who institute a drug-free workplace program. The program must satisfy requirements established by the insurer.
    • Wyoming Under §27-14-201, employers that implement a drug-testing program may qualify for a base rate discount up to 10%. This program is offered by the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services.



With the increased adoption of social media customers are quicker than ever to emotionally lash out at a company in an online review for even the smallest offense. People getting fired for a single tweet has become an everyday occurrence.

Every employee is a reflection of the business they work for. When an employee shows themselves to be insensitive or unaware the public accuses their employer of the same charge.

The same associations apply to employees on drugs. Even employees that hide their drug use very well on the job may be more open in their private lives. A single employee that presents a persona of drug use can make everyone that meets them or views their social media associate that persona with their employer.

Illegal drug use doesn’t need a whistleblower. It was the Santa Cruz county coroner that shed light on the culture of drug use in Silicon Valley when Google executive Timothy Hayes died from a heroin overdose in 2014. As reporters probed colleagues and employees at other tech companies they found that hard drug use (including methamphetamine and heroin) was above average and drug testing was almost non-existent in Silicon Valley.

It is more critical than ever for businesses to brand themselves as a positive contributor to their community. In most cases any association with drug use suggests negative connotations that are easily attached to a brand, but very difficult to address.

It’s important to stay compassionate and give employees a chance to address their problems. A great example of a drug addict cleaning up their act and enjoying positive PR is Robert Downey Jr. After a few episodes of bad press Robert went into rehab, came our clean and went on to star in one of the most profitable movie franchises ever. A community focused company makes encouraging positive behavior and compassion part of their mission.

Robert Downey Jr
Robert Downey Jr. has enjoyed enormous popularity and success after recovering from bad PR associated with drug use.

Encourage Drug Users to Seek Help

Even though substance abuse can be a big problem for employers, employees that are in recovery miss fewer days than average workers and have a 21% lower turnover rate. Gainful employment at a company that drug tests is one of the biggest incentives for drug users to get clean.

Since the incentive to get clean is tied so closely to employment, this is an opportunity for businesses to give back to the communities they serve. Identifying drug use through testing doesn’t have to be all about the benefits for the business. Even though recovery is hard and it takes most addicts several attempts and a strong will to succeed, instigating a successful recovery is a very rewarding part of drug-free-workplace policy.

Most reputable companies offer employees that fail a drug test the opportunity to attend an in-patient program. Most employer insurance plans do pay for in patient treatment, and since the Affordable Care Act all drug treatment programs are supposed to be covered by insurance.

Belden Inc. was having such a hard time dealing with applicants and employees struggling with opiate abuse that they started a program that paid for employees drug treatment.

Encourage Drug Users to Stay Clean

As I mentioned before the promise of secure gainful employment is one of the biggest incentives for drug users to get clean. It’s also the biggest incentive for drug users to stay clean.

Most of the recovered addicts we have met through this business used getting a job as their first step forward in recovery. This led to many starting families, adopting hobbies and making new friends. At some point the idea of losing your income is worse than avoiding drug use and many addicts fall into a normal routine.

Companies associated with addiction treatment and rehabilitation are especially known for having great success hiring recovering addicts. Since recovering addicts miss less work and are more likely to stay loyal to a company, this could be as self serving a reason as it is an altruistic one.

Joe Arndt VP of Delta Lighting
Joe Arndt, the Vice President of Delta Lighting recruits employees that are in recovery. He has found that people in active recovery tend to be better employees.


Joe Arndt, Vice President of Delta Lighting, has been recruiting recovering addicts for several years. When asked why he said, “They’re tremendously loyal to us, and they just work harder because they realize that they don’t necessarily have a lot of other options which is kind of sad,”.

“They’re tremendously loyal to us, and they just work harder because they realize that they don’t necessarily have a lot of other options which is kind of sad,”

-Joe Arndt, VP of Delta Lighting on hiring addicts in recovery

Despite the fact that many studies show recovering addicts make better employees and several initiatives developed to help those in recovery find a job, the unemployment rate of drug addicts in recovery is approximately twice as high as the national unemployment rate.

Lower Costs

Healthcare costs for substance abuse treatment programs were about $35 billion in 2015. Another $85 billion is spent treating illness, injuries and infections related to substance abuse. Employers that offer health insurance will almost definitely pay higher premiums even if their employees do not report substance abuse.

The cost of retraining the least skilled employee is often tens of thousands of dollars. With drug users having more absences, getting in more accidents and being less productive in general companies often find themselves in an endless cycle of replacing people if they cannot weed out applicants that use drugs during the hiring process.

When you start to add up productivity losses, higher workers comp and insurance premiums, employee absences, higher healthcare costs and the cost of on site incidents, it’s hard to believe an employer can afford not to drug test their employees.

Avoid Lawsuits.

A positive drug test can turn a common workplace accident into costly negligence lawsuit. Negligent hiring and retention lawsuits are becoming more common and judges are more frequently ruling against employers. Plaintiffs prefer to file against a corporation or small business that has deeper pockets and lawyers are more likely to present the weaker case with the hopes of getting a bigger settlement.

As previously mentioned, drug users are 3.6 times more likely to injure themselves or others and 5 times more likely to file a workers compensation claim. OSHA has deemed post injury drug testing to be retaliatory in nature and it can expose a company to worker’s compensation retaliation tort claims, so it is important to identify and address the possibility before it becomes a reality.

A few examples of lawsuits that found the company responsible for the drug or alcohol use of their employees:

  • Chesterman v. Barmon: The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that an employer’s liability for the criminal actions of an employee who was taking mescaline and amphetamines was a question for the jury to decide.
  • Otis Engineering Corp. v. Clark: A drunk machine operator was sent home by his employer. On the way home he caused an automobile accident killing himself and two occupants of another car. The Texas Supreme Court held the employer liable.
  • Brockett v. Kitchen Boyd Motor Co.: An employee left an office Christmas party after having too much to drink. The employee caused an automobile accident and the employer was held liable for injuries suffered by third parties.

Gather Evidence

The goal of post accident drug testing is to find the truth and either exonerate or convict the person involved in the accident. Regardless of the circumstances a positive drug test can affect a company’s liability to an employee that is injured on the job.

A positive drug screen is also grounds for termination in most states. Most companies will try and avoid having a claim on their unemployment insurance if possible and a positive drug screen is almost iron clad.

It’s important to stay educated on drug tests and their admissibility in court if you plan on using results for more than coercing an employee to resign on their own. It’s also important to understand the legal guidance for drug testing in the workplace.

For instance OSHA recently issued a memorandum on workplace safety incentives and post accident drug testing. Their guidance is primarily meant to keep employee drug testing consistent and avoid any type of unfair targeting. For post accident drug testing

“Post-incident drug testing should be conducted consistently on any employee whose conduct may have contributed to the accident, and not merely the employee who was injured in an accident.”

So during an investigation of a fork-lift driver hitting another employee both employees should be drug tested and not just the driver.

Improve Work Environment

Theft, crime and violence all increase with levels of employee drug use. Company morale drops quickly when a co worker that has a substance abuse problem isn’t doing as much work, isn’t coming in on time and isn’t being disciplined for it.

Drug use is often a major aspect of a user’s life. Thoughts of getting drugs and using drugs are frequently on their mind even at times when they should be focused on their work.

It’s not fair to other employees that drug addicted co workers use up more of a company’s resources. It’s also not fair that an employee would need to worry about her personal belongings being stolen at work because a co-worker is feeding their drug habit.

It’s important to consider company culture when drafting drug testing policies. Some companies have experienced pushback and negative reactions when instituting company wide drug testing policies.

Some people see it as an invasion of their privacy. Studies have shown that when jobs are more dangerous employees are more open and even supportive of strict drug testing policies. Whether drug testing aligns with employees’ political stance, everyone wants a safer work environment, higher morale and peace of mind not having to worry about thievery and other drug related property crimes at work.

Avoid Extreme Issues That Cause Problems on All Levels

Some incidents that could have been entirely avoided by drug testing have such a high cost that they’re hard to classify in this list. For instance in 2014 a McDonald’s employee was arrested for selling heroin in Happy Meals. The employee would include a bag of heroin in the happy meal box if a customer said “I’d like to order a toy” when placing their order. Besides the lost revenue from an employee running an illegal drug dealing operation out the restaurant instead of working, besides the obvious safety issues associated with putting hard drugs in a meal designed for children, you cannot create a fictional headline more damming from a public relations perspective.

Even though a drug test may not have identified the criminal, it would have likely uncovered widespread drug use among the staff.  Other employees had to have been aware of the scheme and more than likely were given drugs to ignore it.

In another episode a customer is suing McDonalds after he ingested a soft drink spiked with Buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is widely prescribed as a maintenance drug. A post accident drug test of the staff would have likely found the culprit.

The recent Netflix documentary “How to Fix a Drug Scandal” tells the story of Sonja Farak, a lab chemist that was found to be stealing drugs and getting high at work. In this case her actions led to 24,000 cases being overturned by the state of Massachusetts. The total costs and repercussions associated with this example cannot be measured. It could have all been avoided with a $2.50 12 panel drug test.



It’s even more astonishing that the state of Massachusetts had just dealt with a similar issue. Annie Dookhan had faked test results and adulterated others in a bid to win over her superiors. The state’s entire policy should have been revised and the most obvious tactic, random drug testing employees, should have been added.

So why do employers drug test?

Considering all the disadvantages and damages that are likely to be caused by employee drug use and considering the obstacles involved with reacting to a drug related problem in the workplace it should be clear why employers drug test their employees. Any business that does not currently have policies addressing employee drug use should start planning the implementation of pre-employment and random drug testing immediately. We are happy to help readers with their plans and answer questions about our products and the industry. Feel free to contact us for additional information.



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Employee Drug Testing Guide

Use our employee drug testing guide to help inform your policies and procedures when testing new hires and completing random drug testing in house.


  1. Donor provides urine specimen in the cup and screws the cap on.
  2. Operator checks the cap for tightness, starts timer
  3. Remove peel off label
  4. Check temperature strip on back. A green color will appear to indicate the temperature, proper range is 90°-100°F
  5. At 5 minutes read the results. Presence or absence of drugs is indicated by the colored bands in the results area.
12 panel drug test results lines
The 3 results of a 12 panel drug test: negative, positive and invalid.


Tips for Successful Employee Drug Testing

Set Standard Drug Testing Procedures

When starting an employee drug testing program you need to begin with a consistent operating procedure that is detailed in a manual. Outline whether drug testing will be completed on a random basis or whether the company will only drug test employees after accidents and when they’re suspected of being intoxicated on the job.

During the hiring process management or human resources should have every new employee sign a Drug Testing Compliance form that clearly outlines the rights and responsibilities of every employee as it pertains to the company drug testing policy.  This will help in the unlikely event a terminated employee engages in legal action.

Always Observe Urine Drug Screens
When your patient or employee knows they are going to fail a drug test they will try anything to get around it. If you aren’t observing a drug screen then you can never definitively say that your subject didn’t substitute a clean sample for their own urine. One study found that when staff at an outpatient rehab started witnessing drug screens positive results almost doubled from 25% to 42%.

Most facilities that do frequent point of care drug screening will have a bathroom that is specifically designed for observing drug screens. Toilet water will be dyed blue, doors will be removed from stalls, sink access will be restricted, and a mirror will be placed for an observer to confirm that the sample did indeed come from the patient and not a small bottle concealed in their underwear.

Always Send Positive Drug Screen Samples to a Lab
Point of care drug screening is meant to lower the cost of a company drug testing program, but was never intended to replace confirmation from a licensed laboratory.

A drug testing cup can only indicate that a subject has levels of a certain metabolite in their urine that is above a designated cutoff. It doesn’t give any indication of the amount of that metabolite, the time frame when drug use likely occurred, the amount of drugs used or even the source of the metabolite.

A positive drug screen in your office just means that subject has likely used drugs in the past few days and their sample should be sent to a lab for confirmation. Besides the fact that a point of care test only indicates quantities of a metabolite above or below a designated cutoff, the possibilities of a false positive or faulty test means that you run the liability of making a bad decision based on evidence that doesn’t meet a burden of proof.

Maintain a Secure Chain of Custody

From the time you collect the sample from an employee you are responsible for making sure that the sample is not adulterated or otherwise tampered with until a laboratory can confirm the results.

Take the employee to a designated waiting area where you can set the collection cup and wait for the test strips to indicate whether a sample is positive or negative. It is important to have the employee wait with you so they can confirm that you have not tampered with their sample.

If the sample comes back positive you will need to seal it, package it and fill out paperwork to send it to a lab. Until the sample is properly packaged you should not let it out of your sight, and do not leave the package unattended until you pass custody on to the shipping agency.

It’s very unlikely that an employee that had a legitimate positive drug screen will pursue legal action, but you should treat every case as if you plan on being deposed in court. An employee that is the victim of a false positive will appreciate your diligence in maintaining strict control of their specimen so their innocence can be proven by the lab.

Store Unused Drug Tests in a Cool Controlled Environment

Test strips depend on chemicals present in the strips to react to metabolites of the target substance.

If you remember your science class in high school, every experiment called for a high level of control of different variables so the only variable being tested was directly related to the hypothesis you were trying to prove. In drug testing the uncontrolled variable is the amount of drugs each subject has consumed recently; all other variables need to be tightly controlled.

Extremely high or low temperatures can cause the chemicals in the test strips to alter their molecular structure which will lead to a different reaction to the target metabolites.

We take special precautions to make sure that our tests are stored at 70 degrees Fahrenheit in our facilities and choose the quickest shipping methods to limit exposure to uncontrolled temperatures during transport. Even in a controlled environment be careful not to store tests in direct sunlight which can raise the temperature of the tests even though the room is controlled.

Detect Dilution of Urine Samples

One of the most common techniques employees and patients use to alter drug screen results is diluting their urine in their own body by drinking excessive amounts of water or tea prior to testing. This can cut detection times down tremendously.

Doctors have long recommended that adults drink 4-8 glasses of water everyday; a healthy adult male should have urine that is colored like light lemon juice – a slight yellow tint. If a subject has urine that is completely clear it is acceptable to ask that they give another sample in 2-4 hours while not consuming more liquids.


urine color drug test chart
This chart shows how shades of urine relate to dehydration. When analyzing drug test samples, some color is preferable because urine that is completely clear cannot be distinguished from water without further testing.


Instruct any subject that consistently provides diluted samples that further dilution will result in a failed screen, or use an alternate sample (blood, saliva or hair follicle) at the employee’s expense.