Laboratory Urine Drug & Alcohol Screen: Advantages and Disadvantages
18 October, 2023
Laboratory urine drug & alcohol screen is a process of examining biological samples to test for illicit substances. It utilises advanced testing equipment to identify the exact drug type and amount. Its primary advantage is high accuracy. It gives more reliable results due to the techniques used. However, it is also costly and time-consuming. It utilises more resources and technology, thus affecting its cost. Nevertheless, it provides valuable information in situations needing confirmation or evidence.
Drug and alcohol abuse is a significant concern in today’s society, both in terms of personal health and public safety. Its impact is detrimental in many areas, particularly in the workplace. Thus, many companies conduct workplace drug and alcohol testing to minimise the hazards of substance abuse. Laboratory tests provide employers with an accurate assessment of drug use. In this article, we will cover the advantages and disadvantages of laboratory testing for alcohol and illegal drugs.
Definition and Purpose of Laboratory Urine Drug & Alcohol Screen
A laboratory urine drug & alcohol screen is a diagnostic test to detect the presence of illicit substances or alcohol in a person’s urine. It is a common method used by healthcare professionals and employers to assess drug and alcohol use. The purpose of the test is to provide objective information about a person’s substance use history. The results can help make decisions regarding treatment and employment matters.
The procedure takes place in a medical facility where the sample is obtained and immediately goes for laboratory screening. It involves analysing a urine sample for specific drugs. Additionally, it undergoes various testing methods, such as immunoassay and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), to identify and measure alcohol and drug metabolites. The GC-MS test is the gold standard in urine drug testing.
The results from a urine drug screen can help health professionals diagnose and treat substance use disorders. By identifying specific substances being used, they can develop appropriate treatment plans and interventions. Moreover, employers use this test for safety reasons. It is valuable in pre-employment and random testing if an individual has substance abuse.
Commonly Tested Substances
- Marijuana: the test looks for traces of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient in marijuana.
- Cocaine: highly addictive stimulant that can cause psychological and physical dependence. The test traces for benzoylecgonine, a cocaine metabolite.
- Amphetamines: a class of drugs that stimulate the central nervous system. It includes methamphetamine, methylphenidate, and MDMA (ecstasy).
- Opiates: a class of drugs derived from opium poppies. They have analgesic effects and can produce euphoria. Commonly tested opiates include opioids like heroin, codeine, morphine, and oxycodone.
- Alcohol: ethyl alcohol is the main ingredient found in alcoholic beverages. It is a depressant, impairing judgment, perception, memory, and coordination.
Advantages of Laboratory Urine Drug & Alcohol Screen
A laboratory urine drug & alcohol screen provides several advantages. Firstly, it provides a higher level of accuracy and reliability compared to instant or point-of-collection tests. This is because laboratory testing follows a strict chain of custody and uses advanced equipment and techniques. The controlled laboratory setting minimises the chance of contamination or tampering with the sample.
Secondly, it identifies and measures the exact levels of drugs, giving comprehensive results. A laboratory urine test can detect a broader spectrum of drug classes, including prescription medications, synthetic drugs, and designer drugs. This detailed analysis ensures that all potential substances of abuse are covered. Therefore, it can determine the severity of substance abuse.
Lastly, laboratory analysis is often used for confirmation testing. The comprehensive analysis is ideal for an in-depth investigation of a person’s substance use. For example, if an instant test produces a non-negative result, advanced laboratory techniques can confirm or refute the presence of drugs in the sample. This minimises false positives, which can have negative consequences.
Sample Collection Procedure
The sample collection process of urine screening is straightforward. First, the individual is given a sample container to produce a urine specimen. Then, they must collect either a first-catch or mid-stream sample, depending on the instruction of a professional. Lastly, the individual hands over the sample to a professional for screening.
It is important to ensure proper labelling and documentation to maintain the chain of custody. Furthermore, the collection and screening process adheres to the laboratory standards to ensure accuracy. It is also vital to follow the testing guidelines, such as washing the hands before and after the sample collection.
Disadvantages of Laboratory Urine Drug & Alcohol Screen
The main disadvantage of laboratory urine drug & alcohol screen is its cost. Generally, it is more expensive compared to rapid testing kits. It requires advanced equipment and skilled technicians for the sample collection and analysis. In some cases, it covers storage and transportation costs from on-site or remote testing.
Another drawback is it is time-consuming. Laboratory tests typically have a longer turnaround time due to the elaborate process involved in screening. The results may be available within 24 to 48 hours or longer, depending on the type of test and the collection centre. Hence, it is unsuitable for those who need immediate feedback. In contrast, instant test kits give the results within minutes.
Moreover, urine screens are susceptible to tampering or adulteration. This is more probable if the sample is collected outside the laboratory since individuals may dilute the test to skew the results. Lastly, the test can have privacy issues. Some testing facilities may require a professional to supervise the sample collection process to prevent attempts of adulteration.
Common Alternatives for Lab Tests
High laboratory fees can be impractical for some individuals or companies that need frequent screening. Thus, they may opt for more affordable alternatives. Other options include an instant urine test kit and a breathalyser. A test kit is cheaper and easy to use. It gives rapid results, indicating the presence or absence of illicit drugs.
On the other hand, a breathalyser can detect alcohol in the breath within seconds. It also measures Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) or the level of impairment. A breathalyser is cost-effective as it allows multiple retests. When used correctly, these devices can give reliable results.
A laboratory urine drug & alcohol screen is a diagnostic test for assessing substance use or abuse. It analyses the urine samples for various drug classes, including illegal drugs, prescription drugs, and alcohol. Additionally, it involves using laboratory equipment to identify and measure specific substances accurately. This serves several purposes, including providing reliable information about a person’s substance use history. Therefore, it enables healthcare professionals and employers to make appropriate treatment plans and informed decisions.
Laboratory tests offer several advantages, such as high accuracy, reliability, and comprehensive results. It follows a chain of custody procedure to ensure the integrity of the samples. However, it has disadvantages, such as high cost and longer turnaround time. Thus, it is crucial to follow the standard testing process to avoid false-positive results. Lastly, there are practical alternatives available, like instant test kits and alcohol breathalysers. These devices are suitable for individuals or companies that require frequent screening.