What are Drug Tests & How Do They Work?

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A drug test looks for the presence of illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter drugs in your urine, blood, saliva, sweat, or hair. Urine testing is the most common form of drug testing.

what happens if you fail a drug test

Other names for drug testing include:

  • Drug screen
  • Drugs of abuse testing
  • Substance abuse testing
  • Tox screen
  • Toxicology screen
  • Sports doping tests

How Does a Urine Test Work?

A urine screening requires that you provide a urine sample in a lab. You will receive instructions on how to give a ‘clean catch’ sample.

The clean-catch method of providing a urine sample includes the following steps:

Step One

Wash your hands before cleaning your genital area with a cleansing pad provided by the lab. Men should clean the tip of their penis. Women should open their labia and wipe from front to back.

Step Two

Begin to urinate into the toilet. Place the collection container under your urine stream. Be sure to collect at least an ounce or two of urine into the container. 

There should be markings on the container to indicate the amounts. Then, finish urinating into the toilet.

Step Three

Return the collection container to the lab technician or medical review officer. In some circumstances, a Medical Review Officer (MRO) may need to be present while you provide your urine sample.

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How Does a Blood Test Work?

Another common drug screening is a blood test. If you have a blood test, you will visit a lab to provide your sample. During the screening, a medical review officer (MRO) will collect a blood sample from a vein in your arm using a needle. 

After the needle is inserted into a vein, a small amount of blood is collected into a vial or test tube. You may experience a slight sting when the needle is inserted and removed, but it should not cause too much pain. The blood test typically takes less than five minutes.

Make sure to tell the testing provider or health care professional performing your test if you are taking any supplements, prescription drugs, or over-the-counter medications. They may provide you with a positive result for specific illegal drugs. You should also avoid foods featuring poppy seeds, as they may lead to a positive result for opioids.

Why Are Drug Tests Used?

Drug tests are used for various reasons. One of the most common reasons is for job employment. Employers may decide to test you before or after hiring to check for drug use on the job.

Sports organizations may also require drug screening. Professional and collegiate athletes often have to test for performance-enhancing drugs and other substances.

Drug testing may also be required for legal or forensic purposes. Screening may be part of a criminal or motor accident investigation, for example. Testing may also be ordered as part of a court case.

Following some workplace approaches, some schools conduct drug testing on students suspected of drug use. However, schools are unable to conduct random drug testing on students showing no suspicion of drug use.

The goal of testing students is to prevent illicit drug use and identify students who misuse prescription or illegal drugs to receive help.

Finally, drug testing may be used for monitoring opioid use. If you have been prescribed an opioid for chronic pain management, your health care provider may order a drug test to ensure you are taking the correct amount of your medicine.

Types of Drug Tests

There are various types of drug tests. What kind of drug test you will take depends on what drugs are being tested and what types of specimens are being collected.

Urine, hair, saliva, blood, or sweat samples are used as test specimens. In federally regulated programs, only urine samples are used for drug testing.

Tests are typically used for five types of drugs:

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

Other categories may include:

  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Ethanol (alcohol)
  • Hydrocodone
  • MDMA
  • Methadone
  • Methaqualone
  • Propoxyphene. 

What Happens if You Fail a Pre-Employment Drug Test?

If your drug test results come back positive after taking a pre-employment drug test, the consequences depend on your hiring manager.

In most cases, you will not be hired by the company. Your positive drug test may be a red flag for the employer, and they have full rights to deny you a job position.

In some cases, you may be hired under certain conditions. You may be given a chance to prove to an employer that you have been getting professional help or are willing to. However, this is rare.

Why Do Some Companies Require Drug Testing?

There are two types of drug tests that companies require. These are pre-employment and random drug testing.

Some companies make passing a drug test a condition of employment. With this hiring approach, all job applicants will receive drug testing before being hired.

Pre-employment drug tests are used to assess if potential staff members use drugs. Screening helps employers assess new hires for drug use problems before they join the company. Many businesses have strict drug-free rules, which prevents those who take drugs from gaining employment in these workforces.

Random drug tests are different as they are announced to current staff members of a company or business without notice. The purpose of this type of drug test is to ensure existing staff members are complying with the company’s drug-free rules.

Some companies also test their employees for alcohol and other drug use as part of a yearly physical exam. Businesses must inform employees that drug-testing is part of the exam. 

What Drugs Do Employers Test For?

A urine drug test is the most commonly selected test when job applicants or staff members are screened for drug or alcohol use. Urinalysis determines the presence of drug residues that linger in the body once the drug's effects have worn off.

A typical urine drug test for job applicants or employees screens for amphetamines, cocaine, and marijuana.

Can You Go to Jail for a Failed Drug Test?

A failed drug test for employment purposes will usually result in the company declining to hire you or firing you. It is highly unlikely that you would experience any consequences beyond that.

Companies are not required to share the results of drug tests with any other entity. In many cases, they would be legally unable to do so even if they wanted to.

However, if the government is administering a drug test for probation, it is possible to go to jail for a failed test. Whether you can go to jail or not depends on the state you are in.

For example, Indiana Code 35-38-2 establishes the authority that the state courts have regarding your probation. The Indiana probation laws enable a lot of flexibility for the court in creating the terms and determining if you should receive further punishments due to a violation. 

If you have been arrested for failing a drug test, you can attend your hearing and oppose the allegations against you before your probation revocation is ordered. 

These hearings are crucial in determining if you will be subjected to further legal action. Having a knowledgeable Indiana probation violation attorney can help you navigate every part of the legal process.

Will a Positive Drug Test Stay on Your Record Forever?

A positive drug test stays on record in the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse until you finish the Return-to-Duty process and follow-up testing. After that, the data remains in the Clearinghouse for five years.

An employer is unable to access your drug testing results without your consent. However, if you refuse to offer approval, you will be unable to perform safety-sensitive job responsibilities.

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Related pages:

Resources +

Drug testing, MedlinePlus, July 2020, https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/drug-testing/ 

Drug testing, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), April 2020, https://www.samhsa.gov/workplace/resources/drug-testing 

Drug testing, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/drug-testing 

National Research Council (US) and Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Drug Use in the Workplace; Normand J, Lempert RO, O'Brien CP, editors. Under the Influence? Drugs and the American Work Force. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1994. B, The Legal Environment of Drug Testing,  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK236253/ 

Managing drug and alcohol misuse at work, Health and Safety Executive (HSA), https://www.hse.gov.uk/alcoholdrugs/screening-testing-drugs-alcohol.htm 

McNeil SE, Cogburn M. Drug Testing. [Updated 2020 Jun 3]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459334/

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