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Workplace drug testing in America is a complicated issue with many different avenues of discussion. There are people that believe in decriminalization and freedom of use, providing it doesn’t harm anyone. Others are firmly against drug-use in all its forms. Then there are those somewhere in the middle. Many people have a drug of choice, either as a controlled or recreational substance, or an addition to something much more dangerous.

Drug use and abuse vary between “natural” highs like marijuana and “unnatural” chemicals like legal highs. Some people become addicted to illegal substances like meth, heroin, and cocaine. Others become addicted to legal prescription opioids. That means a lot of different drugs in the systems of many resident and employees across the US.

The extent of drug use in the workplace, whatever the drug of choice, means an ongoing need for drug tests. Pre-employment screening highlights users before they receive a contract. Random drug tests place a spotlight on those intoxicated at work. As the types of drugs on the market change, so must the drug panels detecting them.

New laws and concerns also shape the approaches of drug testers. Here we will look at the current concerns, laws and workplace drug testing regulations surround the following drugs.

  1. Marijuana – both recreational and medicinal
  2. Opioids – with particular attention to rules on semi-synthetic forms
  3. Legal Highs

From there, the guide will also look at some of the methods of collecting samples and recent developments. Employees are familiar with the urine test as the common method for drug testing. But, there are other drug tests out there.

Marijuana Use

This drug is first in this guide because of its popularity, but also because of changing laws and attitudes. The 2016 elections saw plenty of voters advocating the legal use of the drug. Now in 2018 is when the ramifications of those laws and decision begin to hit home. It is possible for marijuana users to grow, possess and smoke a certain amount in some states. Marijuana is now arguably the most acceptable drug of those still illegal under federal law.

Many states across America have altered their state laws regarding the use of marijuana. There is a slow wave of change spreading across the nation as legislation catches up to the mindsets of voters. Different states have different laws.

Some regions legalized both medicinal and recreational marijuana within specific parameters. Other states voted against legalizing either. Then there are those in between with some decriminalizing and other State laws staying intact.

This ongoing process of legalization means that employers need a new approach with drug tests for this drug. The interesting thing about these new marijuana laws is that this is a drug that bucks the trend for workplace testing.

There are companies that will continue to test for marijuana use in employee drug testing. These employers simply don’t want their reputation to diminish, or productivity to decline.

Then there are employers that will loosen their policies to allow for a clear division between work life and personal life. This is great news for some employees in states with legalized recreational marijuana. In fact, some companies in states with legal marijuana use recently gave up on marijuana testing altogether.

medical marijuana drug testingHowever, there are still too many discrepancies between companies, states, and types of workplace testing. Therefore, many people that use legal marijuana in states in California but are still a little in the dark over their rights.

The issue becomes more complicated with the difference between medicinal and recreational marijuana. As mentioned above, there are companies looking to take a positive step further by acknowledging marijuana use on weekends. As long as drug use doesn’t occur during work hours, there is no problem in their eyes of management.

An issue here is the use of prescribed medicinal marijuana. What happens to employees if they take a random drug test when they have a prescription for medicinal cannabis? This confusion enhances the need for clearer federal laws on marijuana and statewide drug test regulations.

Opioid Usage

This category of drugs has always been high on the list of offenders in drug testing and laws. An opioid is a term that covers a range of drugs such as heroin and morphine. The growing war on prescription drug abuse means that testers now want to add more semi-synthetic substances to drug panels. This means Hydrocodone, Hydromorphone, Oxycodone, and Oxymorphone. These four names might not mean much to the average worker, but they will under their brand names like Vicodin, Percodan, and OxyContin.

At the moment, the expanded drug panels for these additional opioids are a new method and not that common. However, if the current trial by the Department of Transportation is successful, this could roll out further. From there, other major companies may decide to follow the trend and test for these prescription painkillers. At the moment, this decision asks more questions than it answers.

It is all well and good deciding to fight against opioid drug use in major industries. But, could employers discriminate against workers with a legitimate prescription? A positive result for Percodan or Vicodin could have serious consequences for the healthcare or career of users with serious pain management issues.

Some employees may risk losing their job over their disability or keeping their job by giving up the drug they rely upon. This is one of many areas of discussion that will continue to influence drug testing policy across 2018 and into 2019.

War On “Legal” Drugs in the US

There are some people that may have assumed that legal high use was just a fad. Yet, it is the middle of 2018 and the problem is far from over. These substances have caused problems for drug testers and prosecutors for a couple of years now. The formulas, brands, and supplies for legal highs change so frequently that it is difficult to keep up. By the time that testers understand one chemical signature, they then need to look for another. As a result, legal highs and bath salts are rarely mentioned on drug testing panels and company drug policies.

There is some good news from Birmingham, England. Birmingham Hospital saw a catastrophic rise in a drug called Black Mamba. Approximately 16 people arrived with overdose symptoms at the beginning of this year.

legal prescription drugs, drug testingResearchers developed a new test that can help to analyze substances and chemicals. The test can identify six synthetic cannabinoids within these legal high, including 5F-ADB. This development is something to watch in the year ahead.

There is potential for identifying major chemicals in these drugs, even if the formula alters. Additional drug panels could identify the use of dangerous synthetics and replace the panel for legal cannabis.

There is also still a need for drug tests of other substances such as methamphetamine and cocaine. The number of drug panels used by a company in workplace drug testing can vary between employers. Some testing options are basic, while other searches for more specific chemicals in a broader test.

There are four main categories in use with the majority of tests: marijuana, opioids, amphetamines, and cocaine. While illegal highs and opioids are big news, there has actually been an increased use of cocaine and methamphetamine. This would suggest that workplace drug testing and drug laws aren’t much of a deterrent.  Or improved drug testing methods have caught more users.

Whatever the reason for this increase in positive results, employers want that number to decrease. Drug testing may not act as a deterrent, but companies still need the best possible method to catch users.


Source: NatlSafetyCouncil

New Drug Testing Options

Those new blood drug tests for legal highs bring us to another important area of discussion in workplace drug testing. There are many different methods available to employers, some more popular and beneficial than others. Options include the following:

  1. Urine testing
  2. Saliva testing
  3. Hair testing
  4. Blood testing
  5. Breath testing
  6. Fingerprint testing

Urine Drug Tests

The urine test is still the most popular test and has been for many years. It seems that it doesn’t matter what else comes along, employers still prefer this practice. This is interesting when considering the potential for tampering with samples. Surveys of drugs users show that many don’t fear the drug test because they can swap samples and take detox drinks. Yet, the ease of collection and quick results favor the employers.

Saliva Testing

Saliva testing is an alternative option that can produce some results for many of the major drug types. Yet, the method has fallen out of favor. The debate on the best method for workplace drug testing is still contested between urine testing and hair testing. Saliva testing is still the method of choice for DNA testing and other screenings.

Hair Drug Tests

There was a period through 2017 where many suspected that hair testing might overtake urine testing as the preferred method. Hair follicle drug testing appears to have a lot of benefits over urine testing. The method of collecting the sample means that it is much more difficult to switch samples. The section of hair also covers a longer window of time.

hair drug test cut hair

However, two major developments mean that hair testing has taken a step back. The first is a case of African American cops that claim they were falsely accused of drug use. The case raises questions of racial bias in the methods and the accuracy of hair testing more generally. The other development is the shift away from marijuana testing. All the positive traits of hair testing mean that it is ideal for finding THC substances in the hair of marijuana users. This isn’t as much of a priority anymore.

Blood Testing

Blood testing for drugs is another option that isn’t all that common. The recent discoveries with illegal highs suggest that there may be more advantages to this test than first suspected. The problem is that the method suits hospital testing far better than workplace testing. Blood testing requires skilled technicians to draw the sample and handle it. This is impractical in a typical work environment. Some companies also don’t like the invasive method of drawing the blood from their workers. This contrast with urine samples is another reason why urine testing is more popular.

Breath Testing

A breathalyzer is an important tool in roadside cases of intoxication. But, these tests generally refer to alcohol use. There is another model under development. This test uses a different analytical technique of Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. The idea here is that this new approach will highlight molecules of cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines, and heroin. There is potential here in roadside assistance, especially with the increased use of recreational marijuana and DUI cases. The issue here is that while this is appealing, it hasn’t caught on yet. Part of the reason for the lack of use is uncertain over the law and legal parameters.

Fingerprint Drug Tests

The final testing method to look at here is fingerprint testing via paper spray mass spectrometry. This a pretty specialist testing method for cocaine use. The method allows researchers to measure the mass of molecules on fingerprints and identify cocaine use. Preliminary tests show good levels of accuracy. The reason that this is so unknown is this niche market. Cocaine isn’t a top priority – even if those recent drug use stats suggest otherwise.

cocaine drug tests

Changes In Workplace Drug Testing In Coming Years

The current climate of drug use in America sees the country in the middle of a shift. On the one side, testing for marijuana could soften in line with new laws.  There is a strong possibility that marijuana testing will fade away, perhaps replaced with more drug testing in roadside cases.  On the other, testing for opioids – especially prescription drugs, could increase. Changes to drug panel options in the coming year could reflect this shift.

There is also a good chance that the Department of Transportation’s new panels will roll out into other industries. The legal high blood test and cocaine fingerprint test are less likely at the moment. But, all these developments and changes show that the world of drug tests continues to evolve.

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