5 Things You Need to Know About the Drug Screening Process and Advancing Technology 

Jul 22, 2022

As an employer, you want to ensure you are hiring the most qualified candidates and maintaining a safe workplace. Pre-Employment Background Screening verifies you know who you are hiring. A crucial part of the pre-employment screening process is drug testing and depending on your industry is an important part of routine procedures. 

Employment drug testing is a complex issue as it is affected by federal, state and local laws, statutes, and industry regulations. Drug testing technology continues to advance and it is important to stay up to date on legitimate testing methods and procedures.

1. Why do employers require drug screening?

Not only can drug use by employees make for an unsafe workplace, but the consequences can be costly for employers.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates the financial burden in the United States is $740 billion annually as a consequence of drug use; in the forms of economic debt, medical costs, and crime. Stereotypes exist of how a typical drug user looks, however most people do not fit the stereotype. In fact, three out of four people with drug or alcohol problems are currently employed. The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found one in five people admitted to using an illicit drug within the last year. 

In addition to avoiding potential consequences, some industries require pre-employment drug screening and routine drug screening. It is important to know what laws and regulations guide your industry and what screening options are available.

2. What are the different types of drug tests?

Drug screenings typically test for five categories of drugs including, amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates, and phencyclidine (PCP). Additional categories may include barbiturates, benzodiazepines, alcohol, MDMA, methadone, methaqualone, or propoxyphene.

Drug Test Sample Types:

Sample types include urine, saliva, blood, breath and hair. Depending on the sample type, test results can provide the timeframe of drug use. 

Urine sample is the most commonly used type of drug screening because it is painless to acquire and can reveal recent and past usage. Urine samples have a high concentration of drug leves, wide detection window, and an extensive range of detectable substances. 

Hair samples can reveal drug usage from the previous two weeks to three months, but have a small range of detectable substances. Saliva, breath or oral fluid tests indicate more recent drug or alcohol use (5-48 hours) and are often used in rapid testing procedures.

Screening types

Pre-employment Drug Screening

This type of drug screening allows employers to require negative drug test results prior to being hired. Applicants must be notified by the employer, of the intent to drug test prior to the drug screening process. Read more about the process below.

Annual test

Once an applicant is hired, industry regulations may require an annual (scheduled or random) drug test to be performed. During this time drug screening for alcohol or other substances may be included. As with pre-employment drug screenings, employees must be notified in advance. 

Reasonable Suspicion Tests

An applicant may have passed their pre-employment drug test, but employers may want to screen again if their employees are showing concerning behaviors or if an accident or injury occurs on the job. 

Random Tests

Once an applicant has been hired, employers may complete random tests quarterly in order to meet industry requirements and/or company policies. For example, the FMCSA regulation requires employers to conduct random quarterly drug tests in order to stay compliant. Random screening is the most effective way to deter illicit drug use.

3. New Drug Testing Technologies

Drug testing methods evolve as new technologies are created with increasing speed and efficiency. At one point, urine and hair specimen methods were considered revolutionary technology. New technologies include advancements in oral fluid testing, telehealth collection apps, and fitness-for-duty screening. 

Telehealth collection apps may be considered the most exciting as they offer options that are safer and more secure when traditional testing methods are not available. Telehealth collection apps allow the sample donor to provide a sample at a remote location using an app and/or video conferencing that walks them through the process of using the screening kit. This technology changed the way many employers were able to drug test even during the COVID 19 pandemic when traditional lab-based methods were not available.

As testing methods are enhanced and federally approved, employers will be able to make the screening process as accurate and effortless as possible. 

4. What laws affect employment drug testing?

The drug screening process can vary as it is regulated by state and federal laws, as well as industry regulations. 

If there is a new technology available, how do you know if you can use it?

Know your federal and state laws and regulations. All states require employers to use the highest possible quality products with proven successful results. Most states require FDA approved collection and testing technologies to be processed by certified labs. The type of specimen collected is also regulated. Most state regulations allow only urine, oral fluid, or hair to be collected and tested. Additionally, many states require employers to follow very specific procedures when collecting specimens. With that being said, an employer still has leeway in regards to what drug testing technology they choose to use (with the exception of regulated industries).

5. How to conduct a Pre-employment Drug Test

Before you put in place your drug testing process or program, make sure to research local as well as federal laws and regulations to ensure you are in compliance. Companies like APTOS screening help explain the process and regulations in addition to making sure you are in compliance within your industry and streamlining the necessary steps. Once you are informed regarding the laws and regulations pertaining to you, there are specific steps to be taken.

1. Provide written notice of intent 

Applicants must receive written notice in advance of the employers’ intent to conduct a pre-employment drug screen. Before employers can conduct pre-employment drug screening, they must provide applicants with written notice of intent to drug screen in advance.This notice of intent can be stated in the job-posting, as part of a conditional offer of employment, or in another official document. This notice advises applicants that the job offer is contingent on the drug test results. 

2. Obtain written consent

After an employer orders a test through APTOS’s platform, the applicant receives a link to provide required information, sign consents  and schedule their drug test appointment digitally. 

3. Drug test is conducted

The applicant provides their sample to the collection site on the scheduled day, then the sample is sent to the lab to be processed. Drug test results through APTOS take about one week.

4. Receive test results

If the results are negative, they are automatically sent to the employer. 

If the results are positive, they are sent to a Medical Review Officer (MRO) who reviews the results and contacts the applicant with any questions. Sometimes a positive result is due to prescription medications. If the prescription is confirmed by the MRO, the employer receives the results as negative.  If the results are confirmed positive for illicit substances and the applicant does not have a prescription for that drug, the employer receives the results as positive. 

5. Take appropriate action

If the employer decides to not hire the applicant based on the results of pre-employment drug screening, they must follow the adverse action process under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

  1. The applicant must receive prior notice that information contained in the results of their screening process disqualifies them from the position. 
  2. The applicant must receive a copy of the report. 
  3. The applicant must receive a copy of “Summary of Consumer Rights under the FCRA.”
  4. The applicant must also receive the name, address, and telephone number of the company that produced the results. 

It is important to make sure you know what laws and regulations affect your employment drug screening process. Work with a company like APTOS who can guide you through the process, streamline employment drug screening steps and communication, and ensure you are staying within compliance to the law and regulations for your industry and location. 

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