Drug Testing

Some schools, hospitals, and places of employment require drug testing. There are a number of ways this can be done, including pre-employment testing, random testing, reasonable suspicion/cause testing, post-accident testing, return to duty testing, and followup testing. This usually involves collecting urine samples to test for drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, PCP, and opioids.

Drug tests vary, depending on the type of drug being tested for and the type of specimen being collected. Urine, hair, saliva (oral fluid), or sweat can be used as test specimens.

Mandatory guidelines for federal workplace drug testing of urine specimens were established in 1988 and updated in 2017. In 2019, Congress allowed federal executive branch agencies to also collect and test oral fluid specimens as part of their drug testing programs.

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Drug Testing and Workplace Issues

Studies suggest that many adults who use illegal drugs are employed full or part time.1 In addition, when compared with those who do not use substances, employees who use substances are more likely to:

  • Change jobs frequently.
  • Be late to or absent from work.
  • Be less productive.
  • Be involved in a workplace accident and potentially harm others.
  • File a workers’ compensation claim.

Employers who have implemented drug-free workplace programs have important experiences to share.2

  • Employers with successful drug-free workplace programs report improvements in morale and productivity and decreases in absenteeism, accidents, downtime, turnover, and theft.
  • Employers with long-standing programs report better health status among employees and family members and reduced healthcare costs.3
  • Some organizations with drug-free workplace programs qualify for incentives, such as decreased costs associated with short- and long-term disability and workers’ compensation.3

Drug-Free Workplace Resources

If you are an employer and would like information about creating and implementing a prevention and treatment program for your employees, call the Drug-Free Workplace Helpline at 1-800-WORKPLACE (1-800-967-5752), coordinated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The following resources provide more information about drug testing in the workplace.

Drug Testing in Schools

Following models established in the workplace, some schools conduct drug testing on students suspected of illicit drug use (called reasonable suspicion/cause testing). However, there are some restrictions on random testing of students showing no such suspicion. The goal of testing is to deter illicit drug use and identify students who misuse prescription or over-the-counter drugs or use illicit drugs so they can get help. For more information, see our Frequently Asked Questions About Drug Testing in Schools webpage and our NIDA for Teens website.

Drug Testing Guidelines


  1. Substance Abuse Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. SAMHSA. Published September 8, 2016. Accessed January 18, 2017.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Making Your Workplace Drug-Free: A Kit for Employers. https://www.samhsa.gov/workplace/toolkit. Published January 1, 2007. Accessed April 5, 2017.
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 14 Short Employer Cost Savings Brief. https://www.samhsa.gov/workplace/toolkit. Published 2008. Accessed March 29, 2017.

Other Resources

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