Of the three different types of drug testing – urine, oral saliva, and hair testing – which one is most effective to determine drug use?
Urine has been the “gold standard” as the most common method for drug testing across the industry, even as oral (saliva) and hair testing techniques have improved reliability over last few decades.
As we wait for Health and Human Services (HHS) to release hair testing guidelines and the Department of Transportation to adopt those guidelines for safety sensitive positions across Aviation, Commercial Motor Carriers (FMCSA), Maritime, Pipeline, Railroad, and Transit, the discussion of what type of drug testing methods are most effective is now heating up.
Unfortunately, there are many who are misguided on the strategy of when to use each drug testing method as there are pros and cons to each method and the reasons for testing.
So, let us break this down for you.
What is the most effective method for drug testing?
The problem with this question is companies are considering dropping urine for oral or hair testing for every type of reason an employee would be tested. This is misguided.
It is important to note that there are various restrictive state drug testing regulations that may prevent companies from drug testing, who they can or cannot drug test and why.
Regardless, companies need to remember the various reasons they are testing employees. These are:
- Reasonable Suspicion
- Follow-Up or Return-to-Duty
Each reason for testing has their own goals for keeping employees and assets safe.
For example, the goal of pre-employment testing is making sure your staff, especially in safety-sensitive positions, do not have a history of drug abuse. In this situation, it would be ideal to use a drug testing method that provides a longer drug use history. Conversely, for reasonable suspicion testing, a shorter drug detection window would be more effective as it can accurately find recent drug use.
Understanding which method for testing has a shorter detection window would help companies decide if that method is best for this reason.
Breaking down collection testing methods
To help make choices on which method of testing is best for your company and reason for testing, we need to break down and compare urine, hair, and oral saliva testing into:
- Detection Window
- Collection Time
- Turnaround Time
- Ideal Reason for Testing
|Urine Testing||Oral (Saliva) Testing||Hair Testing|
|Regulated||HHS + DOT||Pending HHS + DOT||Pending HHS + DOT|
|Detection Window||2 – 7 days||8 – 48 hours, short detection window||7 – 90 days, long detection window|
|Collection Time||10+ min depending on if donor did not provide enough sample||15 minutes, non-invasive||5 minutes, less invasive|
|Turnaround Time||24-48 hours||24-72 hours||24-72 hours|
|Ideal Reason for Testing||Suitable for all testing reasons||Reasonable Suspicion & post-accident testing program||Post-accident, reasonable suspicion, pre-employment, and random testing program|
Now that we understand the pros and cons to each method of drug testing, let us dive into which method is most effective for the reasons a company would drug test.
Urine testing: As the most common testing method, urine testing can detect recent use, between one to three days and is suitable for all testing reasons and types of drugs being tested.
Oral saliva testing: Mouth swab testing is the least invasive method of testing and can detect recent drug use within the first few hours to 48 hours. This makes oral testing the best testing method for both reasonable suspicion and post-accident testing.
Hair testing: Using hair samples from the body is the only method of drug testing that can detect drugs and alcohol in the system from a week to 90+ days, unlike urine testing, which only detects drugs and alcohol up to 7 days. In recent statistics from Quest, hair testing provides nearly twice the number of positives drug tests than urine testing due to its longer detection time-frame and is the best option for a pre-employment or random testing program.
When looking at updating your company drug testing policies, we believe a mix in methods is the most beneficial in your drug testing programs. Again, it is important to note that there are various restrictive state drug testing regulations that may prevent companies from drug testing, who they can or cannot test and why.
Drug and Alcohol Services
At CNS, we offer a comprehensive Drug and Alcohol Consortium Service and are a certified consortium and third-party administrator (C/TPA).
Our experts ensure that all DOT rules and regulations are followed, including the implementation of random drug tests for you and your drivers, updating your company drug testing policies, record retention and document purge management.
We take all the necessary steps and precautions to keep you and your drivers compliant with the DOT drug and alcohol testing requirements.