A Publication of WTVP

Okay, the title of this article may be crass, but it holds true: Urine drug testing is still the most widely-used method for detecting substances in a person’s body.

Drug testing has become second nature in today’s employment community. Employees are tested for a variety of reasons: pre-employment, post-offer, random, reasonable suspicion, for-cause and post-incident—whether post-injury, when medical care is needed, or post-accident, when medical care is not necessary but property damage has occurred. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) only recognizes urine (and blood, in certain circumstances) as the method for drug-testing those who carry CDL licenses for driving certain vehicles. As a collection site, the most reliable way to collect a patient’s specimen is by following DOT collection procedures. These procedures have held up in court and make it difficult to tamper with the results.

Considering how common drug testing is today, most people have probably taken at least one drug test in their career; thus, the stigma attached to someone handling urine is, for the most part, an outdated argument. Between two clinics, IWIRC performs about 1,200 drug tests per month with a clientele of roughly 2,000 employers, making it one of the largest drug testing vendors in Illinois and the largest downstate occupational health provider. Among those 2,000 employers, more than 90 percent use the urine method for their testing.

Hair testing is another method, but it has several issues. First, it takes seven to 10 days after use for a substance to show up in the hair follicle. If someone uses a drug on Saturday, their hair sample wouldn’t detect that usage until the following Friday or Saturday, at the earliest. This poses a problem with for-cause testing, when looking for on-site intoxication, or random testing, as that person may never be drawn in the random pool again.

In addition, each half-inch of hair represents roughly the last 30 days. The first 1.5 inches of hair starting at the root represents the last 90 days. Beyond the first 1.5 inches, the hair sample is less reliable and results are not as accurate. So, if the hair on your head isn’t long enough, then your body hair is used. But body hair recycles itself once a year, on average, so there is a different timeframe for detection—three months vs. 12 months—which complicates matters. And if your body hair isn’t 1.5 inches in length, urine is used as the backup testing method. This makes for another timeframe incongruity, as substances are detected almost immediately through urine, but leave a specimen anywhere from 72 hours to 30 days after use.

The question to ask when considering which testing method to use is this: In an age when urine collection is still the most reliable, most commonly utilized and most cost-effective method, why use any other? Chances are your company will be using urine drug testing in at least some circumstances anyhow, so why not use it for all your testing needs? iBi