Passing a Drug Test: Separating Fact From Fiction

As the growing opioid epidemic continues to grab headlines and drug use in the American workplace has reached the highest positivity rate in 12 years, it’s safe to say that drug testing isn’t going away anytime soon.1

Considering that alcohol, drug, and tobacco use costs the US economy more than $740 billion per year, businesses are being particularly proactive about curbing losses related to productivity, healthcare, workplace accidents and theft.2 Many companies have embraced the tenets of a drug-free workplace with regular random drug testing because of data that’s shown a sharp increase in positive drug tests after someone is already employed.

Of more than 7 million drug tests administered to potential employees and analyzed by Quest Diagnostic Labs in 2015, positive pre-employment tests clock in at roughly 4.2 percent. Once someone has been hired, that rate jumps to 5.5 percent.3

So How Do Drug Tests Work, Anyway?

While smartphone technology has changed how so many things work these days, drug tests are still admittedly old-school. The most common type of testing still involves urine analysis, something that can either happen privately at the workplace or via a third-party lab with monitoring provided by a lab employee. Some employers may even use blood, saliva, or hair to detect the presence of drugs in your system, though that’s definitely not the norm.

One of many important things to be aware of is exactly what types of drugs are being tested for. Despite being legal in eight states plus Washington, DC, at press time, marijuana and its many forms — including edibles, oils, and tincture — will all show up in a drug test. Other substances that are frequently tested for include everything from cocaine, PCP, and methamphetamines to opioids, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and propoxyphene.

While private employers have greater autonomy in tailoring their drug-testing standards to the needs of their company, businesses subject to particular federal regulations because of safety-sensitive positions (think organizations where heavy machinery is operated, etc.) must adhere to the standards outlined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

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Know the Facts: How Long Do Drugs Stay in Your System?

If a test is imminent and you’ve used drugs or alcohol recently, you may be worried you’ll fail. While there are no hard and fast rules for how long a particular drug stays in your system, LabCorp provides some general detection guidelines for commonly tested substances.

According to LabCorp’s “Drug Abuse Reference Guide,” marijuana can remain in someone’s urine for up to two months with chronic use. If someone randomly indulges on a weekend, pot can leave the body in as little as two days, though it could take up to a week. Ecstasy, meth, and heroin stay in someone’s system for up to two days, while cocaine can stick around for as many as four. If someone regularly abuses benzodiazepines like Valium or Xanax, these substances can be detected for four to six weeks.4

Keep in mind that these guidelines are based on a urinalysis only. Several physical traits also factor into the conversation, including your weight, the amount and potency of the substance you’ve consumed and any medicine(s) you’re already taking.

Should You Cheat Your Way to Passing?

The short answer is no. The only surefire way to a passing score is to abstain or detox from drug use altogether.

Even High Times — a publication centered around cannabis culture — admits there’s a lot of misinformation out there. While a handful fall into the risky category, some suggestions flat-out don’t work. Ever. If you try to fake your way to a passing grade, it’s at best extremely risky and, worse yet, commonly detectable.

What Happens If I Fail?

There’s no way around it: Failing a drug test isn’t great news.

If you fail a pre-employment drug test, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be landing that particular position. If you fail a drug test at the job you already have, it’s possible you’ll be terminated, and you certainly won’t score a promotion anytime soon. You could also lose your workers’ compensation benefits, along with unemployment and disability benefits.5

If your drug test comes up positive and you’re not a drug user, it could be a false positive. If you believe that’s what happened, you can ask for a retest or a second test called the confirmation test. By utilizing a different method than you used the first time around (generally it’s a gas chromatography test) or simply retaking it, you’ll generally uncover whether it was a false positive.6

If you are a drug user and failed, there are several options moving forward. Sometimes candor in admitting your mistakes can result in a second chance. If there’s an Employee Assistance Program at your company, that’s worth checking out.6 While it’s not guaranteed, completion of the program can be a good-faith gesture to your employer that you’ve sought treatment and are intentional about moving forward drug-free. But no matter if you stay employed at your current company or not, seeking help for your addiction is always the best course of action.

While it’s not guaranteed, completion of the program can be a good-faith gesture to your employer that you’ve sought treatment and are intentional about moving forward drug-free.

Where Can I Find Help?

Talbott Recovery’s Professionals Program has provided comprehensive addiction recovery treatment to more than 6,000 working professionals. With specialized expertise in licensure and employment issues, we treat everyone from physicians and pilots to attorneys and business executives, tailoring each program to the professional’s specific needs so they can return to the work they love. Call us today at 678-251-3189.

By Christa Banister, Contributing Writer

1Increases in Illicit Drugs, Including Cocaine, Drive Workforce Drug Positivity to Highest Rate in 12 Years.” Quest Diagnostics, May 16, 2017.
2Drug Testing FAQs.”, May 1, 2017.
3 “Drug-Free Workplace: The 15 Essentials.” OHS Health & Safety Services, Inc., Accessed September 15, 2017.
4 “Drugs of Abuse Reference Guide.” LabCorp, Accessed September 19, 2017.
5 “For the Employee: What Are the Results of Failing a Drug Test?” Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace, Accessed September 15, 2017.
6What Will Happen When You Fail a Drug Test?” New Health Advisor, Accessed September 15, 2017.

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