Drug Testing Delays are Happening: Here’s How to Deal

Drug Testing Delays are Happening: Here’s How to Deal

By Tricia O'Connor

Managing pre-employment drug testing and COVID-19 testing is tough enough for your Human Resources team without additional obstacles that are out of their control. But that’s exactly what many HR teams are facing right now as laboratories across the nation experience significant delays.

The four main labs that process most employer hiring tests are all backed up and processing times are slower than usual.

“When COVID-19 came to be, a lot of the labs diverted a lot of their resources to their staffing, working on COVID-19 testing, which makes sense,” says Heather Horn, Vice President of Drug TestingOccupational Healthcare, and Wellness Program at EBI.

But a slew of other complications caught labs off guard, leading to a backlog of drug testing and other pre-employment testing. Here’s how the perfect storm happened, and why employers shouldn’t give up hope to access timely test results.

Drug Testing Delays

The four main labs that process most employer drug tests are Abbott, LabCorp, Quest, and CRL. In most years, these major brands can handle the influx of tests employers choose to run or are required to run on new hires.

But 2021 hasn’t been like most years, and it produced a 1-2 punch that literally knocked a lab out.

Heather Horn

For one, COVID-19 continues to be a problem. COVID-19 testing is needed to help detect the virus and help mitigate its spread and has also become a de facto requisite for travel, schooling, and many other instances, including onboarding new hires.

“As COVID went on, [labs] started to maybe lose some staff here and there, or people were just sick and were not at the labs,” says EBI’s Horn.  

Then, a new mandate from the Department of Transportation stated new chain of custody forms had to be provided by drivers, which led to supply and distribution issues, which, in turn, slowed down turnaround times.

Finally, came Hurricane Ida. As it battered New Orleans, it took out an Abbott Laboratories facility.

“Their laboratory was pretty much heavily damaged in the storm, and there were specimens sitting on tarmacs that couldn’t be delivered to the lab,” says Horn. “If they did get to the lab, there was no one to test. There was no power at the lab.”

While one closed lab might not seem like a big deal, it is. These companies have dozens of facilities across the country, but employer drug testing – especially urine testing – is only processed in a small handful of them. The three other labs jumped in to help but doing so just caused a bigger backlog.

COVID-19 Impact

The impact of the pandemic can’t be underestimated when trying to understand how these testing delays happened. In a relatively short span, labs had to introduce COVID-19 tests into their product lineup and have the supplies and staff to conduct and analyze these tests. On October 13, 2021, there were nearly two million individual P.C.R tests conducted. Two million tests. In one day. That’s not including other kinds of tests. Oh, and we’re not even at the peak of the pandemic anymore.

Considering these tests are on top of what the labs normally do, and that the labs are suffering from fewer workers, it’s no wonder the delays have grown more frequent and longer as the pandemic continues.

Many industries like healthcare and tourism have revised their COVID-19 policies to include mandatory testing now, too, increasing the numbers of COVID-19 tests being sent to labs.

The Trouble with Lab-Based Drug Testing

Lab-based tests occur when a specimen (urine, hair, oral fluid) is sent to a lab for processing, or the specimen is collected at a lab. Results are usually available after 2-3 days. Lab-based tests are still considered the standard in drug testing, especially among safety-sensitive positions, and are required in Federal and Department of Transportation (DOT) testing.

However, as these delays prove, lab-based testing can be inconvenient, complicated, and expensive for employers.

“A company would save on average about $20-$25 per collection that the clinic would charge if an employer did the collection themselves,” says Horn.

Transitioning from lab-based testing to instant testing or remote drug testing, could help lighten the load for labs, and speed up results in the process. Instant testing is available for both drug testing and COVID-19 testing. Let’s break down each type of instant test EBI offers.

  • Instant or Rapid Drug Tests – These tests have become a more attractive alternative for employers who want to hire quickly, safely, and improve their candidate experience. An instant test provides you with results in minutes at the point of collection, so it’s great for remote employees. Instant tests typically use urine or oral fluid (saliva). Rapid tests don’t have as many regulations attached to them but can deliver a “negative” or “non-negative” result quickly. If speed is the name of the game in your drug testing efforts, and you’re not regulated by any government bodies, this may be a good fit for you. It is also less expensive than lab-based tests. Oral fluid drug testing has been approved by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for employee testing, but it is NOT approved for DOT or Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) testing.
  • Instant COVID-19 Tests – These nasal swab tests make it easier for people with or without symptoms to test themselves anytime, anywhere, and take all the necessary precautions if they test positive. Simply swab your nostril, insert into the included tube and have results in less than 30 minutes. These tests can be performed prior to entering the workplace or for employees who need immediate reassurance at home or before travel. As with so many consumer goods, there is a slight delay in receiving the instant COVID-19 test that EBI offers. However, clients can get on our ordering wait list now and receive their tests in a timelier fashion.

Smarter, Safer Solutions with EBI

EBI’s Horn says labs are making strides to decrease these delays.

“They’re all hiring additional staff and they’re all adding additional shifts to do what they can to get caught up and make sure they stay that way. But it really just was the perfect storm, a quagmire of circumstances that I’m not really sure that anybody could account for,” she says.

But employers don’t have to give up hope of accessing timely test results while hiring new people. EBI’s suite of instant drug tests and COVID-19 tests can get you fast and accurate results, without waiting for a lab. For more information, reach out to an EBI team member.

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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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