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Drug Testing 101

Posted 1/24/2018 by UHBlog

Are your employees coming to work fit for duty? Talk to us about why drug testing should be part of your health and wellness program.

Drug testing materials

Many employers say that their employees are their greatest asset. Yet, if your company lacks a drug-free workplace program that includes drug testing, your employees risk falling victim to drug-related injuries, accidents and crime.

Even though approximately 75 percent of people who abuse illegal drugs and/or binge drink are employed, less than two-thirds of employers include drug testing in their drug-free workplace program, says the American Management Association (AMA).

The reasons can vary, says occupational medicine specialist Mundeep Chaudhry, MD.

“Some companies might only conduct drug testing in specific situations, such as for pre-employment, randomly or for cause when an accident occurs,” Dr. Chaudhry says. “Other times, it may not be required by their industry or customers, so they don't do it.”

If your company doesn't conduct pre-employment, random, for-cause and/or return-to work-drug testing, it may cost you more than you think. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates that businesses lose roughly $81 billion per year in lost productivity due to alcohol and drug abuse. This stems from absenteeism, tardiness, poor work performance, more workers’ compensation claims and medical costs – not to mention the serious harm they cause to their co-workers.

“For workplaces that are looking for alcohol use, typically a breath test is done,” Dr. Chaudhry says.

Types of Drug Testing

To determine if illegal drugs are being used, there are different drug tests administered and collected by trained drug testing technicians. They include:

  • Urine
  • Sweat
  • Blood
  • Hair
  • Saliva

The HHS calls urine drug testing “the gold standard” because of its proven accuracy, reliability and fairness. Different drug tests have varying degrees of sensitivity.

“A urine screening is cost-efficient and easy to collect,” Dr. Chaudhry says. “It is able to detect drugs used during the prior two days. Federally regulated workplaces, such as the Department of Transportation, use urine screenings.”

If you want to detect drugs used prior to the last two days, hair samples are the best option, according to Dr. Chaudhry.

Certified laboratories – which analyze specimens of all types – measure urine-specific gravity, pH, creatinine levels and temperature to ensure the specimen was not altered. The HHS says certified laboratories can determine valid and reliable positive and negative results, as well as deviations in collected specimens.

“A hair sample can detect drugs used during the prior three months. Hair can be collected from the head, armpit, chest or leg,” he says. “Saliva and sweat tests are rarely used. They only go back two days and are not much better than a urine sample. A blood sample isn't used often, and is usually done in hospital emergency rooms.”

Drug Testing Analysis

Most organizations screen for “the SAMHSA 5,” which refers to the five categories of drugs the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) requires certain organizations test for:

  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • Opiates
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)

“There is a 10-panel screening that can be used, too,” Dr. Chaudhry says. “It looks for the 10 most common types of drugs used on the streets.”

Employer Policies on Drug Testing

When your business commits fully to a drug-free workplace, SAMHSA recommends your company include these five key components:

  1. A written policy
  2. Employee education
  3. Supervisor training
  4. An employee assistance program (EAP)
  5. Drug testing

“Before implementing drug testing, it's important to get legal counsel and apply the testing policy equally across the company,” Dr. Chaudhry says.

To learn more about University Hospitals’ occupational health and safety services, connect with University Hospitals Employer Solutions for more information.

Mundeep Chaudhry, MD is an occupational medicine specialist for University Hospitals Occupational Health. You can request an appointment with Dr. Chaudhry or any other doctor online.

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