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.
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.
- SAMHSA Division of Workplace Program (DWP)
SAMHSA’s DWP oversees federal and federally regulated workplaces to eliminate illicit drug use in federal workplaces and help all workplaces to become drug-free. DWP also provides resources to help employers create cost-effective, safe, and healthy workplaces. For more information, see its Drug-Free Workplace Toolkit called Making Your Workplace Drug-Free and a list of certified drug-testing labs.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Mandatory Guidelines
Effective October 1, 2017—HHS' Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs using urine now allows federal executive branch agencies to test for additional Schedule II drugs of the Controlled Substances Act (i.e., oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, and hydromorphone) in federal drug-free workplace programs.
- U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), Office of Drug & Alcohol Policy & Compliance
DOT's Office of Drug & Alcohol Policy & Compliance advises on national and international drug testing and control issues, and rules related to the drug and alcohol testing of safety-sensitive transportation industries.
- U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Drug Demand Reduction Program (DDRP)
DoD's DDRP provides education, outreach, and awareness programs to detect and deter DoD civilian and military personnel from using illicit drugs and misusing prescription drugs.
- U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Fitness-for-Duty Programs
NRC's fitness-for-duty programs are designed to provide reasonable assurance that nuclear facility personnel are trustworthy; they will perform their tasks in a reliable manner; they are not under the influence of any substance that may impair their ability to perform their duties; and they are not mentally or physically impaired from any cause that can adversely affect their ability to safely and competently perform their duties.
- Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA)
DATIA provides education, resources, and advocacy to those involved in and interested in drug and alcohol testing.
- Substance Abuse Program Administrators Association (SAPAA)
SAPAA promotes and communicates quality, integrity, and professionalism in the administration of workplace substance use prevention programs through education, training, and the exchange of ideas.
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
- Laboratory Evaluation: Testing for Alcohol and Substance Use (PDF, 279KB) - Resource listing important clinical considerations related to laboratory testing for alcohol and substance use.
- Urine Drug Testing for Chronic Pain Management (PDF, 131KB) - Information tables outlining advantages, limitations, and other considerations for urine drug testing of opioids and other drugs.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- MEDLINEplus Health Information on Drug Abuse (National Library of Medicine, NIH)
- Healthfinder.gov (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
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