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What are the Differences Between Drug Tests?

Drug screening and testing are standard practices for many employers, and with good reason. Employing substance abusers can cost your business, with hits to both your reputation and your bottom line. They are responsible for up to half of all workers compensation claims, are more than twice as likely to have excessive absences, and can cost three times as much in medical costs while proving a third as productive as non-abusive employees. When you also consider that the average expense of replacing a salaried employee is $7,000.00, it is entirely understandable that a business would want to avoid hiring potential substance abusers.

Multiple Tests

There are a variety of methods available to help companies identify red flags in their applicants. Each has its pros and cons, a different price point, and a unique function. This article aims to help take out the guesswork involved in selecting the method that best fits your specific needs.

Before we go any further, it is extremely imperative to note that rules and restrictions for employer drug testing are not the same in every state. It is of paramount importance to know which requirements apply to your area. Failure to do so can lead to costly litigation which is easily avoidable with correct diligence.


The most common form of drug testing employed by employers is the testing or screening of urine samples. Screening and testing of urine are two different processes with unique purposes.

Point of collection urine screening can determine potential recent drug use but can also infrequently result in false positives caused by perfectly legal substances such as Ibuprofen or an abundance of poppy seeds. A urine collection performed by a certified collection facility and sent to a SAMHSA certified facility for GS/MS validation can identify the substance causing the positive result of the screening to ensure that you are not discounting perfectly non-abusive candidates for the variety of bagel they chose that morning.

Though screening results are far less reliable than testing results (in fact, urine screenings without testing cannot be considered accurate), they are also less expensive. Accordingly, many businesses choose to employ a screen/test practice in which a positive screen triggers the urine test (and the accompanying cost).


Oral swabs can determine the recent use of certain substances, though typically only as recent as 48 hours. However, oral swabs are less-invasive than most methods and offer instant results that are very difficult to alter. Oral swabs should be sent to the lab for Gas Chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC MS) testing.

Hair Follicle

Many companies find it cost-prohibitive to perform routine hair testing, as it is often twice as expensive as urinalysis. Thanks to the extended period that illicit substances display traces in hair follicles, however, hair tests are the most efficient way to determine a historical pattern of usage, while other testing methods focus on recent use. Hair tests are best for situations where a urine test might be deemed unreliable (i.e., shy bladder or suspected specimen tampering) or to determine liability following a workplace accident. Hair tests should always be sent to the lab for Gas Chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC MS) testing as well.


Blood testing is extremely accurate in determining illicit substances. However, as blood tests are quite invasive, costly, and only useful for assessing the use of substances over the previous two days, they are rarely employed for employment screening purposes.

CNet offers a range of testing options to suit your drug screening policy. You can find details on the services we offer here.

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