How Does Drug Testing For A Job Work?

Updated on November 18, 2020
Drug Testing For A Job

When you get hired for a new job, many employers require a drug test before you begin working for them. They typically screen for various drug use or alcohol depending on the state. You may wonder how drug testing for a job works.  

What drugs do they test for? What happens if you don’t pass the drug test? 

What happens if you’re on a prescription maintenance drug like Suboxone?

Let’s look at the gist of what occurs in drug testing for employment and what employers are looking for.

Who Does The Drug Testing?

Typically, an employer will hire a drug testing company to screen for drugs.  This means you’ll have to make a trip to that drug testing site for your screening, rather than at the employer’s place.  Common drug testing companies include Quest Diagnostics, Inc. and Laboratory Corp of America Holdings (LabCorp)

Employers do the drug testing as part of a pre-employment hiring process. You may have to make an appointment to get the drug testing done or the potential employer will make it for you. However, some sites may allow walk-ins. The employer should let you know.

What Are The State and Federal Laws?

State and federal laws have guidelines when it comes to drug testing and the workplace. Of course, illegal drug use is prohibited, and employers have every right to not hire someone if illegal drugs are found in their system. 

The only exception may be if someone is using a medication assisted treatment (MAT) like Suboxone or Methadone for treatment.  If you’re under the care of a physician and you have a prescription, then the employer cannot discriminate.

What Drugs Do Employers Look For?

Employers typically do a 5 or 10-panel drug test. The 5 panel tests for drugs that you’d typically find on the “streets”:

  1. Cocaine
  2. PCP
  3. Marijuana
  4. Opioids
  5. Meth or amphetamines

If an employer wants to do the 10-panel drug test, they’ll test for the five just mentioned, as well as:

  1. Suboxone or Methadone
  2. Benzodiazepines
  3. Barbiturates
  4. Darvon
  5. Quaaludes

How Is A Drug Test Done?

Some drugs stay in the body’s system longer than others.  There are various ways to check for drugs in the body, such as:

Breathalyzer – A breathalyzer is used to screen for alcohol use. These aren’t used as often for drug tests though, because the test only picks up on alcohol that was consumed within the past few hours or that day. 

Saliva Test – You can be tested for alcohol and drugs from your saliva, also known as a mouth swab drug test which typically uses cotton swabs. This usually can spot drugs that have been used in the past couple of days. Anything longer than that may escape detection. Saliva is a suitable test to spot drugs like opioids, cocaine, meth, PCP, barbiturates, amphetamines, benzodiazepines, marijuana, and alcohol. 

Blood Test – If the employer calls for a blood test, your blood is drawn and various drugs are screened for what drugs are in the system at that moment. This type of test won’t do a great job at determining what drugs were used days or weeks ago. 

Hair Tests – For those employers who want to see if someone has used certain drugs in the past few months, a hair drug test is that best method. Using strands of hair can alert tests for drug usage within the past 90 days. To do this test, they will clip around 100 strands of hair at the scalp to test for illegal drugs like cocaine, marijuana, opioids, meth, amphetamines, PCP, and alcohol. 

Urine Drug Test – Most employers opt to require the urine drug test, which tests for illegal drugs and alcohol. Common drugs screened for include cocaine, MMDA, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, marijuana, opiates, and alcohol. 

Does Suboxone Show Up On A Drug Test?

According the National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment, urine tests don’t screen for buprenorphine, which is an ingredient in Suboxone. Other opioids may show up, like heroin, oxycodone, or methadone, but usually not buprenorphine. There are some drug tests geared toward checking for buprenorphine specifically, but they tend not to be used that often.

What Employers Require 

With the substance abuse rate being so high, it’s no surprise that employers are doing pre-hiring screening for drugs. Being able to spot those who are struggling with addiction can help them avoid hiring someone who could be a safety hazard or offer low productivity. It can also prompt those who want to work to reach out and get some help for the addiction – so they can get a job.

How Long Do Drugs Stay In The Body?

How long a drug stays in the system will depend on what drug you’re talking about, as well as some other factors.  For example, frequent marijuana users may have THC in their system for a month or more.  Typically, however, drugs will stay in the system for between a few days to a couple of weeks depending on the half-life, dosage, and frequency used. 

Help For Addiction

If you’re struggling with an addiction to alcohol or drugs, there is effective treatment that can help you get free.  Your first step is to reach out for that help and get started on your recovery journey. 

It’s well worth it.

+ posts

Throughout the year, our writers feature fresh, in-depth, and relevant information for our audience of 40,000+ healthcare leaders and professionals. As a healthcare business publication, we cover and cherish our relationship with the entire health care industry including administrators, nurses, physicians, physical therapists, pharmacists, and more. We cover a broad spectrum from hospitals to medical offices to outpatient services to eye surgery centers to university settings. We focus on rehabilitation, nursing homes, home care, hospice as well as men’s health, women’s heath, and pediatrics.