Lab Drug and Alcohol Test: Methods and Guidelines
20 September, 2023
Drug and alcohol testing in laboratories provides reliable results for employers, healthcare providers and law enforcement. It gives a detailed assessment of a person’s substance usage and health issues. Thus, it can help identify and address safety concerns. A lab drug and alcohol test includes several methods to detect various drug classes. The common methods are urine, saliva, blood, and hair testing. Moreover, it involves the careful collection of these specimens to ensure accurate results.
The prevailing use of illicit drugs and alcohol has become a major problem in many societies. It severely impairs a person’s physical and mental functions, posing risks in various settings, such as roads and workplaces. It also results in low productivity and strained relationships. Therefore, it affects not only the individual but those around them as well. In this article, we will explore the methods, procedures, and accuracy of taking drug and alcohol tests.
Lab Drug and Alcohol Test Methods
Lab drug and alcohol tests utilise several methods depending on the particular need or requirement. A common method for substance screening or detection is urine analysis. Urine testing analyses a urine sample for the presence of different drug classes or metabolites. It can detect substances for several days after consumption.
The second method is saliva testing. It involves swabbing the inside of the mouth and analysing the saliva samples. This test can determine consumption within the past few hours up to two days. Due to its short detection window, it is suitable for monitoring recent usage. Moreover, a breath test is a non-invasive method for detecting alcohol. It uses a portable breathalyser device that can measure Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) in seconds.
Hair drug testing is another method that laboratories can conduct. It involves cutting a few strands of hair from the crown and examining it using advanced enzyme immunoassays. It can trace drug and alcohol use for the past 90 days. Lastly, a blood test measures the exact amount of a substance in the bloodstream. However, due to its intrusive nature, this type of testing has limited use.
Substances that Can be Detected
- Marijuana (THC): a psychoactive drug that induces various effects, such as relaxation, euphoria, altered perception, and increased appetite.
- Cocaine: a stimulant drug known for its euphoric effects on the central nervous system.
- Amphetamines: a stimulant drug that results in increased wakefulness, focus, and energy.
- Opiates: pain-relieving drugs that work with the brain cells. The tests include prescription drugs like morphine and codeine.
- Benzodiazepines: psychoactive drugs that act as a depressant. They are prescribed for their sedative and muscle relaxant properties.
- Phencyclidine (PCP): a hallucinogenic drug that can induce distorted perception and mood changes.
- Alcohol (ethanol): a depressant substance found in liquors, wines, and beers.
Lab Drug and Alcohol Test: Procedure Guidelines
The procedures for executing a lab drug and alcohol test include several key steps. Collection centres first establish a chain of custody for the specimens. This includes signing test forms and other documents. The chain of custody process is crucial for medical or legal purposes. Additionally, employers require staff to sign a consent form.
The second step is the specimen collection process. The laboratory must follow specific protocols for the sample collection, handling, and storage. This includes using certified collection kits, following proper labelling procedures, and ensuring samples are sealed to prevent contamination. A healthcare professional collects urine, saliva, hair, or blood samples depending on the test type.
The next step is analysis. Laboratory testing uses various techniques, such as enzyme immunoassays and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) tests. For breath alcohol testing, facilities use fuel cell breathalysers with police-grade accuracy. The test results are usually available after a few hours or days. Overall, the testing and collection procedure guidelines help ensure the integrity of the tests.
How to Prepare for a Test
Before taking an alcohol or drug test, it is vital to follow the instructions given by the healthcare provider. To prepare for a test, it is best to abstain from alcoholic beverages and certain foods. If taking medications, inform the drug and alcohol collection staff of the drugs and supplements being taken.
Additionally, it is helpful to stay hydrated prior to the test. However, it is important to note that excessive water intake before a urine screening may affect the accuracy of the test results. Lastly, avoid eating or drinking at least ten minutes before oral fluid testing.
Lab Drug and Alcohol Test: Accuracy and Reliability
Lab drug and alcohol tests provide highly accurate results using advanced laboratory standards and procedures. Accredited collection centres adhere to strict protocols for specimen collection and handling. It follows the proper chain of custody procedure to ensure the reliability of the test. For instance, laboratory technicians must handle the samples with care using strict quality control measures to avoid errors or inconsistencies.
Furthermore, clinical laboratories use state-of-the-art equipment and methods. In particular, the GC-MS test is regarded as the gold standard in toxicology screening. It can detect trace amounts of illicit substances in urine, saliva, and blood samples. Moreover, it is critical to use immunoassay devices with New Zealand/Australian Standard (AS/NZ) compliance.
Laboratory tests undergo rigorous validation and quality control processes. These procedures involve testing biological samples with known concentrations of drugs or alcohol to ensure the tests quantify the substances of interest. Lastly, regulatory bodies conduct proficiency programs to assess the performance of different laboratories, ensuring consistency across different testing facilities.
Risk of False Non-negative Results
False non-negative results may occur, which are contrary to the actual findings. This can be due to a variety of factors, such as a medical condition or interference with other substances. This can be problematic in medical or workplace testing, as it can lead to incorrect conclusions and potentially harmful actions.
To mitigate the risk of false non-negative results, rigorous testing protocols should be implemented. This includes performing confirmatory testing to verify the initial findings. A Medical Review Officer (MRO) assess the samples and interpret the test results. Likewise, regular calibration of the testing equipment, like alcohol breathalysers, helps maintain accuracy.
Lab drug and alcohol tests are reliable and highly accurate methods for detecting a wide range of illicit substances. It includes using several procedures, such as urine, oral fluid, hair, and blood sampling. The test types vary in the accuracy rate, sensitivity, detection window, and turnaround times. Therefore, choosing a test method would depend on the individual needs and requirements. The common drugs of abuse it can detect are marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, ethanol, and opioids.
It is also important to follow proper specimen collection guidelines and use high-quality equipment to ensure the reliability of the test. It is vital to use precautionary measures to avoid contamination of the samples. Furthermore, individuals or organisations may choose a facility that complies with AS/NZ standards. Through these tests, it can identify substance abuse and manage safety risks. Overall, laboratory testing provides high accuracy, allowing reliable decision-making to ensure a safe workplace or healthier habits.