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Urine vs. oral fluid drug testing

Which is the best workplace drug testing method?

Urine vs. oral fluid drug testing

Drug use in the workplace can lead to accidents at work, a loss in efficiency, absenteeism and days off ill. It can also result in an intimidating work environment. According to the Department for Transport, drugs and alcohol cost British businesses in excess of £6 billion per year in lost productivity. It is not surprising, therefore, that workplace drug testing is on the rise. Companies looking to safeguard their businesses and maintain their reputations are putting drug testing policies in place, which detail comprehensive testing schedules and the consequences of failing a drugs test. It is also becoming much more common to request a drugs and alcohol test prior to hiring new employees.

AlphaBiolabs has over 10 years’ experience in the workplace drug testing sector and over this time has seen changes in the types of drugs that businesses request it to screen. However, amphetamines, cocaine, cannabis and opiates are still routinely requested.

What are the drug testing methods?

Like anything ingested, drugs must be processed by your body before they’re eliminated from your system. The effects of drugs may last for hours, days or weeks, depending on several factors:

  • Type of drug used
  • Amount of drug ingested
  • Frequency of drug use
  • Testing method
  • Height and weight
  • Metabolic rate

One of the most popular methods of determining whether someone is misusing drugs in the workplace is by taking a sample of their urine and analysing it for particular substances. This method is ideal for on-site testing thanks to it being quick, accurate and providing an immediate result. Urine drug testing is known as a ‘narrow-window’ form of testing as its period of detection is only a few days, although this can depend on the particular substance taken. Most drugs will be flushed out of your body in a matter of days. Drugs including cocaine, MDMA and methamphetamine can be present in urine for roughly 3–5 days, but cannabis can stay in your urine for as long as 28 days after chronic use.

AlphaBiolabs uses a fully self-contained urine screening kit to analyse 14 drugs and their metabolites. The pot has tamper protection features to help ensure integrity of the sample and it can be used by both men and women. For workplace testing on site, all that a company needs to do is provide a dedicated toilet that can be used for the testing process.

Our workplace sample collectors follow strict procedures to ensure the chain of custody is retained and that confidentiality remains throughout the whole testing process. This means that although the collectors would not observe a donor giving a sample, adulteration of samples is minimised by cisterns and taps being sealed. Individuals are also asked to empty their pockets and leave bags, belongings etc. outside of the testing area.

If dedicated toilet facilities can not be provided, oral fluid testing (also known as saliva drug testing) is another preferred workplace testing method. This is also a ‘narrow window’ form of testing and its period of detection is from 30–60 minutes after ingestion up to 48 hours, although again this can depend on the particular substance taken. It is one of the most popular methods of for-cause (or post-incident) screening when there are reasonable grounds to suspect that there has been recent misuse of drugs in the workplace.

Another advantage of oral fluid testing is that the apparatus is compact, does not require electricity and can be used anywhere. It is also ideal for workplace testing because it can easily be performed on site, quickly, without the need for dedicated collection facilities. The entire test takes 20–30 minutes and involves placing an absorbent collector (similar to a large swab) inside an individual’s mouth for up to 2 minutes to soak up sufficient saliva.

In some cases, hair drug testing is used as a workplace drug testing method, usually to support oral fluid and urine testing. It is particularly useful to gain a more comprehensive overview of a person’s drug use. Hair strand testing is known as a ‘wide window’ form of testing, which can determine a history of drug intake for 3 months (and up to a year if necessary).

Test method Period of detection What can it test for? Advantages Disadvantages
Urine From 3 days up to 28 days 14 drugs and their metabolites: amphetamine, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, buprenorphine, cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy (MDMA), ketamine, methadone, methamphetamine, opiates, phencyclidine (PCP), propoxyphene and tramadol
  • Quick test producing immediate results
  • Cheaper testing option than both oral and hair testing
  • Tamper-prevention features prevent ‘fake’ samples
  • Needs dedicated toilet facilities for the testing process
  • Donor may not be able to produce enough urine
Oral fluid From 30–60 minutes after ingestion up to 2 days Amphetamine, benzodiazepines, cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine and opiates
  • Quick test producing immediate results
  • Detects recent drug use
  • Doesn’t require dedicated collection facilities
  • Difficult to cheat results
  • Ideal for post-incident testing
  • Sample easy to collect
  • Hygienic
  • Does not test for as many drugs are urine testing
  • More expensive than urine testing
Hair strand From 3 months up to 12 months Amphetamine, benzodiazepines, cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy (MDMA), ketamine, mephedrone, methadone, methamphetamine, opiates and zolpidem.

AlphaBiolabs is also able to arrange hair drug testing for GHB, LSD, Spice, steroids and Tramadol for an additional fee.

  • Can determine historic drug intake
  • Segmented analysis can also pinpoint individual episodes of drug taking
  • Cannot determine recent drug use
  • Most expensive Workplace testing method
  • Results are not immediate

What if the result is positive?

With both urine and oral drug testing, an immediate negative result is obviously the best outcome for both employee and employer as it usually means that no further action needs to be taken. A non-negative result requires confirmation testing from the laboratory to determine exactly what drug was taken. In this case, the sample collector would place the sample in a tamper-evident bag together with the necessary documentation and send it back to the laboratory for further analysis. Each drug has its own unique chemical structure and therefore has a different molecular ‘fingerprint’. Because of this, when the various drugs travel through the analytical technique of LC/MS/MS, they each move at different speeds and fragment in a unique pattern. This means that each drug is unequivocally identified and cannot be confused with another drug. For example, the use of lignocaine in dental treatment cannot give rise to a positive cocaine result.

Some prescription drugs can show up on workplace tests and consequently any medication must be disclosed at the time of testing. An example of this is the painkiller codeine which will show up as an opiate and hence provide a non-negative result [1]. More detailed analysis would then need to be performed by the laboratory to investigate and the individual would usually be suspended on full pay until the drug could be determined. Of course, in the case of codeine, the final test result may reveal that the drug is over-the-counter, and therefore legal; but in the meantime, significant numbers of employees have been known to enjoy up to 5 days off work on full pay, with no repercussions: known colloquially as a ‘codeine holiday’. As soon as AlphaBiolabs learned of the codeine holiday scam, the company invested in additional state-of-the-art technology, designed to speed up the analysis process. This ensures that employees suspended from work pending the results of a drug test have fewer days off work.

What if an employee refuses to take part?

If an employee refuses to take part in any test then they may face disciplinary action. A refusal to participate also raises the question, Why not? What are they hiding? AlphaBiolabs knows that people will go to extraordinary lengths to try and pass a drugs test when they know they will fail. Attempts to fake a urine drugs test include the use of synthetic urine, someone else’s (clean) urine and other liquids of choice (orange juice was once used!). In all cases, the clever technology built into the urine testing pots can foil all attempts.

Sneaky individuals have been known to smuggle in clean or synthetic urine on their body. For example, a condom could be taped to the groin area ready to be pierced and deposited into the urine pot. However, smuggled-in liquids would need to be kept warm. Each AlphaBiolabs testing pot has a temperature strip to check the temperature of the urine as it enters the pot. Anything that isn’t body temperature will be flagged, resulting in an immediate fail.

Another solution that worried individuals employ to pass a urine test is to drink copious amounts of liquids to ‘flush’ anything out of their system. This will result in a much lighter-coloured urine sample. Not only will this be picked up visually in the laboratory as the sample is signed into the system, an adulteration check will prove any dilution through specific gravity or creatine testing.

Oral fluid drug tests are harder to adulterate. For this reason, some companies prefer to stick with this simple-to-use, instant testing method. A longer article on why employees can’t refuse a drugs test can be read here.

Be clean to be sure

The only sure way of passing a urine drug test is via natural detox. A urine drug test can confirm some drugs in your system for up to 28 days so a month drug-free is the bare minimum to ensure a negative result. AlphaBiolabs offers a peace of mind drug test, which employees can take at home to determine the presence of any drugs.

AlphaBiolabs has invested heavily in research and development to be able to continuously and quickly identify specific illegal drugs, even those which are new to the market. Established in 2004, AlphaBiolabs is one of the few laboratories in the UK able to offer a bespoke testing service to satisfy individual company drug policy objectives and procedures. Training can be provided for sample collection on-site, Walk in Centres are available throughout the UK, or a collection service is available.

For more information on how AlphaBiolabs can support your individual workplace drug and alcohol testing policy, contact our expert team today on 0333 600 1300 or visit


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