Pros and cons of oral fluid and urine drug testing

AusHealth Corporate Pty Ltd
Thursday, 02 June, 2011



The decision about a suitable workplace drug testing method can be a difficult one for many safety sensitive industries, according to an Australian supplier of drug and alcohol screening programs, Medvet Laboratories.

“Workplace drug testing is now mandatory for the mining, aviation and transport industries, and should be considered an essential element in various safety-sensitive industries including oil and gas, manufacturing and construction,” said Steve Korkoneas, National Operations and Technical Manager, Medvet Laboratories. When choosing between urine and oral fluid drug testing, Korkoneas suggests, businesses should consider the following:

Pros and cons of urine drug testing

Urine testing is the most accurate and popular method for drug testing and is used by approximately 80% of Australian organisations that test in the workplace.

“Urine is more cost effective than oral fluid tests and can trace drugs that have been ingested more than 24 hours prior to testing,” said Korkoneas.

“Results can be determined on site in five to 10 minutes with 98% accuracy.”

Urine tests also have the advantage of being able to detect benzodiazepines, which are commonly found in sleeping tablets and can significantly hinder a worker’s ability to undertake work duties safely. Current on-site oral fluid testing devices have a significantly lower chance of detecting this drug as benzodiazepine levels are extremely low in oral fluid.

“However, some organisations may find urine testing to be an intrusive method of testing for drugs.”

Pros and cons of oral fluid drug testing

Oral fluid testing, which involves taking a mouth swab of oral fluid, is more expensive but can be considered a less intrusive method of drug testing.

“Just like urine, on-site results can be obtained in five to 10 minutes,” said Korkoneas.

“As oral fluid collection can be observed by the collection agency, it has less privacy issues than urine testing, and means the results are slightly more difficult to adulterate. However, organisations need to consider the fact that oral fluid tests have a shorter window of drug detection than urine testing. Oral fluid tests can generally only detect drugs ingested less than 24 hours prior to testing and cannabis ingested less than four hours prior to testing.

“Several studies have also concluded that on-site oral fluid testing does not display the same level of accuracy as urine.

“In addition, organisations with current policies that involve oral fluid testing need to be aware that there are currently no formally accredited oral fluid drug test devices.”

How do you choose?

A company’s drug and alcohol policy should be the starting point when choosing between urine and oral fluid drug testing, said Korkoneas. “You need to make an informed decision and tailor a program that is specific to your workplace,” said Korkoneas. “Different organisations will have different objectives and requirements for their drug testing program. For example, will your program cover pre-employment, random, post-incident or ‘for cause’ tests, or a combination of these?

“Ask your supplier whether they can assist you to develop your drug and alcohol policy and select the method of testing which is most appropriate for your business.”

Other questions to ask your supplier include whether they are an accredited provider with an in-house toxicologist, do they offer 24/7 support, do they have adequate product and public liability insurance and can they provide education to workers to help them to understand the risks associated with drug use in the workplace?

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