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Drug tests are commonly used by employers, legal entities like probation and parole officers, and even family members who are concerned or their loved ones. But are they reliable? What are the different types of drug tests offered? And can you take a drug test at home? These are just some of the questions so many individuals have. Here is some helpful information  for you when you are preparing for what to expect when you are faced with having to take a drug test or looking for a resource for a family member or friend.

How do I complete a drug screen?


Urine test

The urine test is the most common form of drug and alcohol testing. Urine test results show the presence or absence of drug residue in a person’s urine. Urine drug screens are the cheapest form of testing however it is important to note that urine tests only identify a positive result when the substance reaches a certain level therefore if the individual hasn’t used as much drugs as you thought or has remained sober for a short period of time you can have a negative result.

Blood tests

Blood tests are the most accurate however also the most expensive. Blood tests involve a medical provider taking a blood sample from the individual. Because of the way the blood is tested it is able to identify drug use faster than a urine as it can is wordy use up to only a few hours after use of the drug as well as how much of the drug is present in your system.

Hair Follicle Drug Test

With a hair follicle drug test a small amount of hair is removed from the individuals head using scissors. The hair is then looked at in detail for signs of drug use. The benefit of this type of drug screen is that you can actually identify drug usage hat took place for the last 90 days before the test was taken. Hair drug tests can typically be used to test for the following drugs; amphetamine, Methamphetamines, ecstasy, marijuana, PCP, and opioids.

Different types of drug tests

You may hear someone say “5 panel test” “10 panel test” or “12 panel test” (etc). What exactly does this mean? The number is identifying how many drugs the test can test for. For example a 5 panel test would identify 5 different substances. This typically includes the main drugs that are tested for which include marijuana, opiates, cocaine, amphetamines, and PCP. The higher the number listed on the test the more substances that can be identified which means benzodiazepines, methadone, and barbiturates to name a few can also be identified.

Most drug screens are completed within a medical office, a legal office like probation or parole, or a lab that an employer works with. When it comes to drug tests completed by these individuals the results are sent through a lab that can complete the drug screen pretty fast. Most negative results can be returned within 24 hours however a positive result may need further evaluation to identify levels of drugs present and validity of the test therefore it can take a little longer. On average you can be waiting up to 5 days for a result to be returned. These drug screens are typically completed via urine drug screens. This means you have to submit a urine sample to be tested.

What are home drug tests and are they reliable?

Home drug tests can be used to identify if one or more drugs have been used. This is also done by a urine test. These tests will identify if the individual has used  a variety of drugs including marijuana, cocaine, opiates, methamphetamine, amphetamines, PCP, benzodiazepine, barbiturates, methadone, tricyclic antidepressants, ecstasy, and oxycodone. However it’s really important to read the box to double check what drugs the test can identify. For example you can order  a home test on amazon for $9.00 that will identify 6 different drugs including cocaine, heroin/morphine, marijuana, methamphetamine, amphetamine, and benzodiazepines. Compared to Walgreens who has a single test for $19 that will only identify the use of marijuana within the person being tested. Do your research first prior to purchasing the test that is important.

Accuracy of home drug tests

Home drug tests are fairly sensitive to the presence of drugs in the urine. This means that if drugs are present, you will usually get a positive test result. However, it is also important to follow up with a medical provider for another drug screen if you receive a positive result because certain foods, food supplements, beverages, or medicines can affect the results of at-home tests. Laboratory tests are the most reliable way to confirm if there are drugs in someone’s system.

What can affect the accuracy of the test?

It’s important to be able to understand that tests can sometimes have a false positive. There are a number of different things that can play a role into the accuracy of the test which include (but not limited to) the following:

  • The way you did the test
  • The way you stored the test or urine
  • What the person ate or drank before taking the test
  • Any other prescription or over-the-counter drugs the person may have taken before the test

This also means that a negative test can be wrong too. If you still suspect someone using drugs it’s important to always follow up with a medical provider as their drug screens may be more accurate due to lab testing. No drug test of this type is 100% accurate. There are several factors that can make the test results negative even though the person is abusing drugs. First, you may have tested for the wrong drugs. Or, you may not have tested the urine when it contained drugs. It takes time for drugs to appear in the urine after a person takes them, and they do not stay in the urine indefinitely; you may have collected the urine too late or too soon. It is also possible that the chemicals in the test went bad because they were stored incorrectly or they passed their expiration date.

Regardless of the type of drug test you are taking and whether it is for a loved one who you may be concerned for, an employer because of a new job, or probation/parole, please remember no one is there to judge you for what the results will say. You have options. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help whether it’s for yourself or a loved one.