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July 24th, 2015 | Sterling

Drug Testing in the Workplace: FAQs


We’ve been covering a lot substance abuse and drug testing topics over the last few weeks here at EmployeeScreenIQ. Below are the most frequently asked questions we received throughout our coverage and from our most recent webinar, “You’ve Got Questions, We’ve Got Answers: The NEW Basics of Background Screening.”

What are the different types of drug tests?

Urine is the most common specimen for drug screening. Per Quest Diagnostics, urine drug testing detects recent drug use and is the only testing method approved for federally-mandated testing. Businesses rely on laboratory-based urine testing for its cost-effectiveness, capacity to screen for a variety of different illicit drugs and ability to withstand most legal challenges.

Other specimens include saliva, hair and blood draws.

What is the standard panel of drugs tested for during pre-employment screening?

The most commonly ordered 5 panel drugs include: Amphetamines, Cannabinoids (THC), Cocaine, Opiates and Phencyclidine (PCP).

What is the difference between a 5 panel lab test and a 5 panel instant?

5 panel instant: Negative results are posted same day for instant testing. If non-negative detection, the specimen is sent to the lab for further testing and goes through the same screening and confirmation process as a lab-based test. Advantages of this option include: no shipping delay or lost specimens, affordable and easy to manage, electronic scheduling, convenient collection sites nationwide and non-negative results go through confirmation testing and full MRO (Medical Review Office or Medical Review Officer) process. 5 panel lab test: The lab-based test is collected and always sent off to the lab for testing causing a 2-3 day turnaround time.


What is a dilute specimen?

A dilute specimen can be:

  • A specimen with creatinine and specific gravity values lower than expected for human urine.
  • An excess of water in the urine specimen in which the donor may have consumed a high quantity of water before taking the test or may have added water to the specimen.
  • Can be reported as either Negative-Dilute or Positive-Dilute.

What are adulterants and can labs test for them?

An adulterated specimen contains a substance that is not expected to be present in human urine or contains a substance expected to be present, but is at a concentration so high that it is not consistent with human urine. A substituted specimen is a specimen with creatinine and specific gravity values that are so diminished that they are not consistent with human urine. Labs are able to conduct adulterant testing most commonly by nitrates.

What’s the difference between DOT and Non-Regulated drug tests?

DOT (Regulated):

  • Regulated by the Federal Government
  • Strict Guidelines (DOT Rule, CFR Part 40 describes required procedures for conducting workplace drug and alcohol testing)
  • Currently paper chain of custody only (However, DOT has approved electronic scheduling as of April 2015)
  • Urine specimen only – cannot be altered
  • DOT lab test (Standard 5 panel expanded for MDMA and 6-AM) – cannot be altered
  • Alcohol testing required for some agencies
  • Under the DOT, each agency must conduct random drug screening on all employees working in a safety sensitive position.


  • Non-regulated
  • Client has freedom to customize their drug screening program
  • Many use electronic scheduling or paper chain of custody forms
  • Variety of specimens (urine, hair, saliva, blood)
  • Client able to select their panel
  • BAT is available through PPN and third-party sites

Should I do an alcohol breath test after a workplace accident?

DOT positions: Under the DOT, federally regulated positions are required to undergo a BAT (Breath Alcohol Test). Employers should consult the DOT guidelines as to the frequency and if they are required to conduct the BAT for any of the following reasons: Reasonable Suspicion, Post-Accident and Random Drug screening Non-DOT positions: It is recommended and common to follow DOT guidelines to conduct a BAT for reasonable suspicion and post-accident. The employer should refer to their internal policies for such matters.

When and how often should I run random drug tests? (DOT and Non-DOT)

DOT is typically done on a quarterly basis and selection guidelines are followed per DOT agencies. Non-DOT is based on client preference, typically monthly or quarterly.

What are the conditions that support random drug testing and how is my company protected?

Your background screening provider should have tools and options available for random screening. Check with you legal counsel when setting up a random drug screening program to ensure compliance.

What is an SAMHSA Certified Lab?

SAMHSA is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. They are an agency of The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that regulates and inspects federally accredited drug-testing laboratories. A SAMHSA Certified Lab is any United States laboratory certified by DHHS under the National Laboratory Certification Program that meets the minimum standards of Subpart C of the HHS Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs; or, in the case of foreign laboratories, a laboratory approved for participation by DOT under this part.

A list of SAMHSA certified labs can be found here:

How does legal marijuana effect drug testing in the workplace?

While it’s still wise to promote and maintain a drug-free workplace, you shouldn’t continue your current drug testing practices without considering what marijuana’s legalization means to your company’s official policy. Do review your drug-free workplace policy and substance abuse testing program with your legal counsel. Don’t stop enforcing your drug policy solely because of state marijuana laws. Do apply your drug testing policies fairly and consistently. Don’t terminate or disqualify someone without careful consideration and adherence to policies, particularly in light of medicinal or “legal” recreational use. Do consider the health and safety of all of your workers in the application of your drug screening policy.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.