Drug and Alcohol Medical Test: Definition, Purpose, and What Can Be Detected
28 September, 2023
Drug and alcohol medical tests are standard procedures in various settings. It is the process of examining a person’s biological samples to detect the presence of drugs or alcohol. This measure serves many purposes, such as screening for substance abuse, confirming an impairment, or preventing untoward incidents. It traces commonly abused drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, opiates, and ethanol. These substances can severely affect a person’s physical and psychological health, making an assessment essential.
The abuse of illegal drugs or alcohol is a serious issue that can have detrimental effects on an individual’s health and well-being. Likewise, it affects society as a whole, leading to an increase in accidents or criminal activities. To address this problem, organisations implement drug and alcohol policies that include medical testing. In this article, we will cover what is drug and alcohol testing all about, its purposes, and what it can detect.
What is a Drug and Alcohol Medical Test?
A drug and alcohol medical test is a laboratory analysis of a person’s biological specimen to determine substance usage. These tests are done for various reasons, such as pre-employment, random testing, and post-accident scenarios in the workplace. Hence, the type of test would depend on the situation. In addition, it is typically administered by medical professionals or licensed technicians.
The test usually takes place in a laboratory, but a mobile facility may also be set up in a workplace for convenience. Laboratory tests involve sophisticated equipment and procedures to detect alcohol and illicit drugs accurately. However, this process is longer due to detailed analysis of the samples.
On the other hand, rapid testing is fast and can be done on-site. It utilises immunoassay kits for quick detection of substances. This procedure can deliver the results within a few minutes, allowing for prompt action or decision-making. However, it has several limitations that individuals and companies must consider, such as the possibility of false non-negatives.
Types of Tests
- Urine test: analysis of the urine sample to detect drugs and alcohol in a person’s system. It can trace substances within the past 48 to 72 hours.
- Oral fluid test: detects substances through a person’s saliva. It is non-invasive, as it does not require the use of needles.
- Hair follicle test: determine usage or patterns in the past 90 days. It is suitable for substance abuse monitoring but not for identifying recent use.
- Breath test: detect and measure Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) through the exhaled breath.
- Blood test: provides a detailed analysis of the specific substance and amount in the blood sample.
What is the Purpose of a Drug and Alcohol Medical Test?
The main purpose of a drug and alcohol medical test is to determine if a person has recently consumed illicit substances. It helps identify impaired individuals who are posing safety risks in the workplace. This measure is essential in ensuring the protection of people, property, and other resources. It enables companies to manage these hazards and take appropriate steps to prevent accidents or other untoward incidents.
Another purpose is to identify individuals who are at risk of abuse or are struggling with addiction or substance use disorder. Medical drug testing can help diagnose these issues and provide the necessary interventions. Moreover, it can be used as a monitoring tool to ensure that one is following a treatment plan.
Drug and alcohol testing can also help establish legal proof of drug use. This is critical in workplaces where policies explicitly state the prohibition of such use or impairment during working hours. Overall, this procedure helps to establish a safe environment in workplaces and other public areas.
Reasons to Conduct
There are several circumstances for the need to conduct drug and alcohol tests. Employers may conduct the tests during pre-employment to help determine if an applicant has potentially abusive behaviour. Another reason is after an accident. It is critical to test affected employees to identify if drugs or alcohol led to the accident.
Employers may also conduct the test to confirm intoxication to a particular individual. This test is called reasonable suspicion, wherein a person displays signs of impairment. Lastly, companies implement these procedures as legal compliance with state or national regulations. It is a standard requirement in high-risk industries like mining and transportation.
What Substances Can a Drug and Alcohol Medical Test Detect?
Drug and alcohol medical tests can detect a wide range of drug types within a specified period, depending on the test method. Urine drug tests can trace various drug metabolites, including the potential abuse of prescription medicines. The common drugs are marijuana (THC), cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and benzodiazepines. Meanwhile, saliva drug screening may detect a limited range, such as common recreational drugs.
Breath testing through a breathalyser can detect ethyl alcohol. Ethanol is a volatile compound that rapidly vaporises in the lungs. Thus, it can be determined through exhaled breath, indicating a person is currently under the influence of alcohol. Blood tests are more sensitive and specific since they detect the actual drug molecules present in a person’s system.
Lastly, a hair test can detect drug and alcohol metabolites stored in the hair strands. It can disclose consumption patterns but not the exact time or amount. For most workplaces, urine or saliva drug screening is suitable for preliminary testing, where it gives rapid results.
Handling Non-negative Results
Non-negative results indicate the presence of drugs or alcohol in the test samples. It is essential to conduct a follow-up test through a laboratory procedure to verify the initial screening. Confirmation testing involves Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) techniques to identify the specific drugs and alcohol present.
After confirmation, employers must handle positive results with caution and sensitivity. Typically, a human resource personnel or manager discusses the outcome with the concerned employee with utmost confidentiality. Follow the established protocols and document the process to ensure compliance and avoid legal issues. The employer may then implement the corresponding consequences or provide rehabilitation for those who need assistance.
Drug and alcohol medical tests are essential tools for identifying individuals who are posing safety risks or who may be at risk of abuse or addiction. These tests collect and analyse biological samples to detect the presence of alcohol or illegal drugs in the system. The standard test methods are urine, saliva, hair, blood, and breath testing. Employers may choose a test depending on the situation. For instance, urine drug testing is suitable for pre-employment screening.
These tests can also provide legal proof of drug use in workplaces and other public areas. Employers conduct regular testing to ensure legal compliance. If a person has tests non-negative from the preliminary screening, a confirmation process is necessary to ensure accuracy and fairness. Lastly, employers must handle positive cases with care and caution. Overall, they play a crucial role in ensuring the safety and well-being of individuals and the public.