Drug Testing 101: Remote Collection Best Practices

Drug Testing 101: Remote Collection Best Practices

By Tricia O'Connor

Workplace drug testing plays a critical role in discouraging illegal drug abuse among employees. Employers who conduct drug testing often do so to keep their workplaces safe. The shift toward a primarily remote workforce, however, has caused some confusion about how to drug test employees at home and which methods yield the most accurate results.

Here, we examine the different types of drug testing methods available and how to select the best one to meet your company’s objectives.

Drug Testing Regulations

Employers who are not regulated by the U.S. Dept of Transportation (DOT) can dictate how to manage and run a drug-testing program based on their needs. Many established companies have a defined drug testing policy. The timing and frequency are the employers’ choice, as is the type of testing. They can choose to test urine, oral fluid, hair, or a combination of the three after taking into account applicable legal regulations and considerations. These are called non-DOT drug tests.

The DOT regulates drug testing in industries like airlines, trucking, and trains. DOT drug screens test for five drugs:

  1. Marijuana
  2. Cocaine
  3. Opiates
  4. Amphetamines/Methamphetamines
  5. PCP

A non-DOT drug test can be the same five drugs or expand into a 10-panel or more screen that may include:

  1. Benzodiazepines
  2. Barbiturates
  3. Methadone
  4. Propoxyphene
  5. Quaaludes

Non-DOT employers can also choose to test for hallucinogens, anabolic steroids, prescription painkillers, and ecstasy.

Drug Testing Methods

Drug testing is, generally, invasive and the collection method and process is critical in safeguarding the integrity and privacy of the donor. 

Urine testing can tell you if a candidate used an illicit drug within the last 3-4 days. If they are chronic users of marijuana, the substance can show up in urine testing for up to 30 days. Urine testing detects a metabolite of a drug and several hours are needed before the drug becomes detectable. This method is not ideal for recent-use detection.

Most urine tests are lab-based (conducted in a facility) and are not directly observed because of their invasive collection nature, however, they can be collected onsite under the guidance of a professional technician. As a result, urine tests are subject to cheating more frequently than other methods because, in most cases, the donor is not observed while providing the sample.

Lab-based hair follicle drug testing can generally detect the presence of drugs for about 90 days. A drug does not become detectable in a hair sample for about a week after usage. Hair sample collections are not as invasive as urine testing, but they do require the donor and collector to be visible to each other throughout the entire collection process. Hair testing is subject to cheating but not to the extent of urine testing.

Blood drug testing offers a very brief detection window and isn’t usually the first choice in an employment drug screen program. Drugs in the blood are detectable in minutes to hours, compared to days for urine testing. Blood analysis is best used in situations where a person is actively under the influence of a substance – think of the term blood alcohol concentration in driving under the influence legal cases. 

Oral fluids (saliva) testing can be done instantly or in the lab and it can tell you if your candidate has used any illegal drugs in the last 36 hours. Oral fluid testing is the only drug testing method not prone to cheating as all oral fluid collections are fully observable from start to finish – even virtually through a telehealth appointment or via a zoom call with an HR manager and an employee. Oral fluid collections can also be taken anywhere, unlike urine or blood testing which needs a certified professional to administer them. 

COVID-19 Impact 

There are several factors to consider when choosing a drug testing method during a pandemic like we are experiencing with COVID-19. The first is that employers need to follow whatever regulations they are governed by, especially if they are regulated by the DOT. Second, in a mass viral outbreak that is transmitted rapidly person-to-person like COVID-19, it is imperative employers protect the health and wellness of their employees. This goes for the organization wishing to conduct drug tests and the facilities administering them. All Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Centers for Disease Control guidelines must be adhered to. Social distancing guidelines must be met, too. Employers should also show concern for employees and candidates with pre-existing health conditions or who are considered at high risk for contracting COVID-19. Finally, although restrictions are being lifted on facilities that perform drug testing, there may also be a risk of long lines and long waiting periods before a person can complete their drug test.  

Since the pandemic began, more employers have started using oral fluid (saliva) drug testing. They are drawn to its accuracy, ease of use, limited privacy concerns, and the ability for employees or candidates to take the test from the comfort of their own home while under constant supervision. Oral fluid drug testing can be collected virtually, using remote video observation, ensuring the validity and integrity of the sample and protecting the safety of the donor and collector from any COVID-19 exposure. Because the donor doesn’t require the privacy of a bathroom stall for a urine test, or the need to enter a lab for a blood test, the entire saliva collection – including opening the package, inserting the swab into their mouth, timing the process, inserting the swab into the collection vial, sealing the vial, and inserting the materials into the shipping envelope – can be observed over a remote video. 

EBI Solutions

Employers who are considering staying with a remote workforce even after the pandemic subsides should strongly consider updating their drug testing policies and collection methods. Download “How to Prepare Now for a Drug-Free Post-Pandemic Workplace”, presented by EBI and Current Consulting Group and sponsored by OraSure Technologies, if you’re looking for tips to update your policy.

Oral fluid drug testing is the next evolution in continuing a non-invasive and safe drug testing program for work from home employees.

EBI’s Intercept Oral Fluid Drug Test is an easy-to-use kit that allows you to get a sample safely without putting anyone at risk. It’s an excellent choice for pre-employment, random, post-accident testing, and work from home testing.

For more information on our full suite of drug testing solutions, contact us

About the Author

Tricia O'Connor

Tricia O'Connor

Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

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