Drug Tests – What You Need to Know

Drug Tests

Many employers are increasingly using drug tests and alcohol tests and screenings in the workplace. Depending on the laws of the state that you live in, the type company and relevant state law, employers are allowed to conduct these screenings prior to them making a job offer to a prospective employee or as a contingent requirement for an offer of employment.

In New Jersey the courts have held that the benefits of random drug testing in the workplace must be balanced against the privacy rights of the individual. A good example of the balancing test and the criteria employers should follow can be found in Hennessey v. Coastal Eagle Point Oil (1992). In this case, the Eagle Point Refinery adopted a written drug policy that informed employees that they could be tested for drugs at any time. After discovering on-the-job drug use, the employer instituted a random substance testing program. When an employee, who was selected for the random drug test tested positive that employee brought suit against their employer for violating the state public policy against unreasonable searches and seizures. In the end, the court ruled in favor of the employer, approving random drug testing for highly safety-sensitive positions.

Although the court did acknowledge that the privacy rights of employees can be infringed upon by employer drug testing, the New Jersey court held that the reasonableness of a drug-testing program will be determined by applying a balancing test. In this case, workplace safety outweighed the employee’s privacy interests. The court further stated that an employer who feels it is necessary to implement drug testing should:

  • Use the least intrusive testing methods necessary to determine drug use.
  • Maintain confidentiality of results.
  • Give employees notice of drug-testing program implementation.
  • Detail the way that employees can be selected for the test.
  • Warn employees about the ongoing impacts of drug use.
  • Explain how the sample will be analyzed.
  • Explain to employees about the consequences that the testing could have.

The bottom line is that most employers are allowed to test their employees for substance use.

There are a number of job-related alcohol and drug tests that employers use which show the presence of drugs or alcohol in the system. These include tests of a person’s urine, blood, hair, saliva and sweat.

The following are some of the ways that employers utilize drug tests:

Pre-Employment Alcohol & Drug Screening
Employers may test for substance use as part of the pre-employment process and hiring can often be dependent upon passing these drug tests and alcohol screenings.

Drug testing laws vary by state. In some states, there are limits to when and how drug screening can be conducted. In some cases, the law requires drug testing. For example, industries regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation are covered by federal or state drug testing requirements.

While employers may randomly screen employees, they are obligated to be consistent in how they drug-test applicants. For instance, companies cannot selectively test some applicants for a particular job while not testing others.

Workplace Substance Abuse Regulations
There are state and federal laws that provide guidelines on the policies employers can implement in terms of substance abuse in the workplace. Employers can prohibit the use of drugs and alcohol, test for drug use, and terminate employees who are found to be using illegal drugs. However, employees with substance abuse issues are protected by state and federal laws that regulate discrimination and disabilities.

Passing a Drug Test
As mentioned above, employers may require prospective employees to be screened for alcohol and drug use prior before they are hired. Furthermore, employees may be tested for drugs or alcohol in the workplace at any time after they have been hired. What can you do if you are concerned about passing a drug test? The best way is to make sure that you don’t have drugs in your system.

The Most Common Types of Drug Tests

You’ve probably heard of the breathalyzer test for alcohol and urine screening for certain drugs. But there are actually several major types of drug tests:

Blood test. Blood tests take longer to analyze than urine tests, but this method is very effective at detecting concentrations of alcohol and other drugs. Blood testing can determine your level of intoxication but only for up to 24 hours after you’ve been drinking.

Breath test. Most of the alcohol you drink is processed by your liver, but as the alcohol is being metabolized, traces are eliminated in your breath and urine. Law enforcement can use a device called a breath analyzer to detect the level of alcohol in your breath.

Saliva test. The saliva holds traces of alcohol, hormones, and other chemicals that can indicate drug use. Saliva testing is no longer as popular as blood or urine testing. Drugs can usually be detected in the saliva for only a few hours to a few days.

Hair test. Analyzing the hair for traces of substances may be the most accurate way to test for long-term drug use. Because hair grows slowly (only about 0.5 inches per month), traces of certain drugs can be detected for months. Hair analysis requires more processing time than urine or blood testing.

Urine test. Urinalysis for drug screening is fast, and convenient, which makes this a popular type of test for employers and law enforcement, especially when random testing is required. However, there are complexities involved with the 2 types of urine tests that employees need to understand.

The first type of test is known as a “Point of Care” test, which means the urine is tested in a cup with dip sticks for various drugs. Problematically, this method produces many false positives. For example, eating a poppy seed bagel the night before could cause a false positive for opioids or if the employee takes a pseudoephed for a cold it could show as positive for amphetamines.

The second method for analyzing urine is in a lab with a mass spectrometer, which is much more accurate since it tests for the presence of specific drugs and their exact amounts in a person’s system. It also tests for fake urine and other tricks for beating urinalysis. Most companies will perform the Point of Care test and if a positive result is found they will then send it to a lab for further analysis.

Testing for Alcohol
When a person drinks alcohol their liver metabolizes about 90 percent of the alcohol consumed. The remaining 10 percent is eliminated in the breath, blood and urine. For most people, a one ounce drink of alcohol will produce a .015% blood alcohol concentration. If you drink enough to raise your blood alcohol concentration to 0.015%, it will take one hour for your body to eliminate the alcohol. Blood alcohol concentration can vary according to gender, weight, the amount of alcohol consumed, your activity level while drinking and the presence of food in your system. As a general estimate, alcohol may stay in your system from 1 hour to 12 hours.

Alcohol can be detected in breath, blood, saliva, or urine, but the most common ways to screen for alcohol use are breath and blood tests. A breath analyzer (or “breathalyzer”) is a portable device used to measure the concentration of alcohol in your breath. When a person exhales into a breath analyzer, the device estimates the amount of ethanol, the active ingredient in alcoholic beverages, in the exhalation. Breath analysis can be performed in workplace settings, in schools, or in the field by law enforcement agents.

A preliminary breath test may be conducted during a traffic stop if an officer has reason to believe that you’re violating the law while under the influence of alcohol. If the alcohol in your breath exceeds the legal limit, you may be arrested and required to take a blood test to confirm your exact blood alcohol concentration.

Testing for Opioids
Opioids tend to leave the system quickly, though effects can last for several hours. The amount of time each opiate can be detected by drug tests varies depending on many factors, including how the person ingested the drug. Prescription opiates typically come in pill form and taking a drug orally means that it has to pass through the digestive system first, so it can take around an hour for the effects to begin. On the other hand, substances like heroin are more often smoked, injected or snorted. When the drug is consumed in this manner it takes effect more quickly and results in a more intense high, and they pass out of the body sooner.

Other factors affecting how quickly an opiate leaves the system include:

  • A person’s metabolism rate
  • Weight and body mass
  • Body fat content
  • The health of the liver and kidneys
  • A person’s age
  • The frequency and amount of an opiate used
  • The purity of the drug
  • The amount of water in the body

Of course, the type of opiate also factors into how long it can be detected by drug tests. Commonly prescribed opioids include Vicodin, OxyContin, morphine, and codeine.

Tests that screen for opioids include:

  • Urine Test
  • Blood tests
  • Saliva tests
  • Breath analysis

New Life Medical Addiction Services provides detox services and medically assisted treatment (MAT) programs that are designed to help people with substance abuse issues stay productive and, on the job, while they are getting treatment.

Feel free to call us today at: 856-942-3700 or send us a Text Message.

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