Job Seekers – Drug Testing, What to Expect

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drug test results

By Joe Reilly, CEO, National Drug Screening

Most employers these days require pre-employment drug testing with an offer of employment.  The offer of employment may be contingent upon a clean background check and a negative drug test.  For companies regulated by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) the pre-employment drug test is required by Federal regulations.  In this article we want to inform job seekers what to expect with their drug test, the following topics will be discussed.

  • When is the Pre-employment test required?
  • How is my specimen collected for the pre-employment drug test?
  • What other specimens might be utilized for the pre-employment drug test?
  • Lab testing versus instant drug testing
  • What if I am taking prescribe medications?
  • Who gets the drug test result?


When is the Pre-employment test required?

Typically, when you receive an offer letter for a new job, the pre-employment drug test will be required.  The employers’ human resources (HR) department will generally coordinate this.  HR will likely give you a set amount of time to get into a collection facility for specimen collection for your drug screening.  The timeframe might be next day or up to seven days from the time you are notified of the drug testing requirement.

You will receive either a 5-part custody and control form to take to the facility or you might receive an electronic notification and a electronically produced 1 page order form or sometimes called a donor pass.  The electronic process is called eCCF.  With either method you will need to bring the paperwork to the specific specimen collection facility designated which should be close to where you live.

There are some employers and many staffing agencies that will collect your urine specimen at their office for instant testing. With instant testing your negative result will be immediate.  If your test result is inconclusive the specimen will have to go to the laboratory for additional testing often called a confirmation test.

How is my specimen collected for the pre-employment drug test?

You do not go to a lab for your pre-employment drug test, you go to a specified collection facility like LabCorp, Quest, Concentra or other facilities that collect for drug screening.  Urine is the specimen most often used for pre-employment drug testing.

It is not wise to drink a very large quantity of fluids prior to you drug test collection.  Drink your normal intake and maybe one extra glass of water.  You do not want to have a dilute specimen and have to go  back again for another test.

At the facility you will see the following process take place:

  • Your ID is checked, driver’s license or employment ID card
  • You remove any outer garments; hat, coat, sweater, etc
  • You wash and dry your hands
  • You are provided a specimen cup to go into a private restroom, close the door and provide your urine specimen
  • You provide the urine in the cup to the specimen collector who checks the temperature of your specimen and observes any signs of tampering
  • Your specimen is sealed; paperwork is completed, and specimen is ready to be shipped to the lab
  • You are able to wash your hands and collect your belongs, you get a receipt for the test and you can leave

As previously mentioned, and explained in more detail below, the process might include an instant test at the specimen collection facility and if the result is negative, the process ends with your test result being reported to the employer.

If you cannot provide urine when you arrive for the collection, you are required to make an attempt anyway and try to urinate.  If you cannot urinate or have an insufficient quantity, you can come out of the restroom for a waiting period, this is called a Shy Bladder. You will be provided up to 40 ounces of water over a 3-hour period.  You can provide your sufficient quantity of specimen at any time within the three hours.  After three hours this is a refusal to test unless you get a medical explanation as to why you could not urinate within three hours.

What other specimens might be utilized for the pre-employment drug test?

Urine is most often used as the specimen for drug testing for pre-employment.  In some cases, an oral fluid or hair specimen might be used.  The typical detection time for urine specimen drug screening is three to five days.

With oral fluid drug testing there is a shorter window of detection, usually about one to two days.  Many employers that have oral fluid drug testing programs will do the collection inhouse at the employer’s place of business.  Oral fluid collections are performed by taking a saliva specimen on a collection device which is sort of a sponge on a stick.

With hair drug testing there is a much longer detection time for the drugs, usually about up to ninety days.  About an inch and a half of head hair strands are needed for successful hair test collection.  Body hair from arms, underarms or legs can also be used.  

Lab testing versus instant drug testing

With urine drug testing we see two types, traditional lab based testing and instant testing often also called point of collection testing (POCT) or rapid testing. With lab drug testing the specimen goes to the lab for initial screening and if non-negative goes on to further testing called confirmation testing. The lab confirmation testing is called gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS).  This confirmation testing insures 100% accuracy from a scientific standpoint.

With the instant drug testing, the specimen is collected, and an initial test is done right there at the point of collection. This is a relatively simple, inexpensive, and accurate test (using enzyme immunoassay technology).  The instant test is dependable and accurate for a negative result but not for a non-negative or inclusive result. When the result is not negative, meaning non-negative or inclusive, the specimen must go to a lab for confirmation testing. This insures there will be no concern regarding the accuracy of drug tests, particularly a positive result.

What if I am taking prescribed medications?

A fair and accurate employer drug testing program will include the services of a medical review officer (MRO).  The MRO is a gatekeeper in the drug testing process and part of the overall quality and control.  It is the MRO’s job to review and verify  a positive result from a laboratory 

The review and verification process includes calling every donor, employee or applicant, about every lab positive drug test result.  The MRO will ask about medical explanations for the positive drug test result and collect information about prescribed medications.  Once the prescription is verified and, if in fact, it was the prescribed medicine that caused the positive result, the MRO will change to result to negative before reporting to the employer.

The MRO also coordinates split specimen testing or retesting of the original specimen when a donor is challenging the positive result.  A donor at his/her own expense can request that a specimen be shipped for testing at another certified lab for additional testing.  The assertion is that the first lab made a mistake.  This very rarely happens, but it is the mechanism to challenge the outcome of a positive drug test result.

Going back for another test is never an option.

Who gets the drug test result?

The laboratory sends drug test results to the MRO.  The employer receives reviewed and verified results from the MRO.  If you the donor want a copy of your drug test result, you can request in writing to the MRO or to the employer.  Drug test results are kept confidential and not released to any other party without your written consent.  

More Information for Donors/Job Seekers

Pre-Employment Drug Testing

What Is A Split Specimen Request?

What Happens When An Employee Tests Positive?

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