Drug Testing FAQs

Drug and alcohol testing when performed at a workplace can become increasingly confusing and challenging a task without expert help.

If you are experiencing one such predicament then welcome aboard! We help small, medium and large scale organisations on finding feasible solutions for this issue on a regular basis by prescribing a variety of approaches and perspectives, clarifying ambiguities and misconceptions regarding drug testing methods.

We believe that sufficient knowledge about appropriate ways of testing for drugs and alcohol is of critical importance since inadequate information can lead to stifling efforts of addressing this issue thoroughly.

The following section will clarify common queries regarding drug and alcohol testing methods. Otherwise, just contact Andatech to speak to our friendly staff.

Can testing for drug & alcohol on-site at a workplace be accurate?

On-site drug testing is accurate if performed correctly.

Drug and alcohol testing at the workplace is a convenient way of screening samples before sending incomplete or abnormal readings to an accredited laboratory for further “confirmation testing”.

However, as said before, drug testing kits are only meant for screening. This means all the samples that provide a non-negative result should be sent to an approved laboratory later. A second testing process is mandatory for ensuring the validity of results obtained especially if there are abnormal readings.

How do drug testing kits work? How do “false positives” occur?

Drug testing kits available for on-site testing are immunoassays and work on the same mechanism and principles that are used in advanced screening tests performed at laboratories.

Sometimes, a cross-reaction of both on-site and laboratory-used immunoassay occurs when interference with other substances happens (this may involve pharmaceutical drugs). This happens because other substances may bear similar structure as the “target substance” thereby producing a false-positive result.

Moreover, it is also possible that a drug gets detected that is closer to the cut-off level that resonates a positive result whereas actually it is a bit below the cut-off level. The latter occurrence is named as a “false positive” since the drug was present but it couldn’t reach the confirmatory cut-off. Another possibility is the production of non-negative results by on-site kits.

However, the preliminary screening immunoassay test performed at the lab can provide a negative result too. This, however, rarely occurs and usually it does when the drug sample level is extremely close to the cut-off level that is being used for evaluating the sample, which apparently is never similar.

In more than 98% of all the tested samples, this doesn’t happen because of the fact that the levels are intensely higher or lower than the standard cut-off levels. Perhaps, the more relevant fact is that if an on-site testing reveals non-negative results, then the probability of drug’s presence regardless of it reaching the cut-off level during confirmatory process increases.

Limitations of drug & alcohol screening at a workplace

Cross-Reactivity (false positive results) – Antibodies that are used in immunoassays (common initial screening tests) are unable to recognise intricate differences between the chemical structure of targeted drugs and their metabolites or other comparable compounds. Therefore, the probability of false-positive results by various pharmaceuticals, even if it is later proven as a “negative” during laboratory testing, increases tremendously.

This occurrence is however, not encountered regularly but it is important to realise that certain pharmaceuticals and salient non-pharmaceuticals such as poppy seeds have the potential of producing erroneous results during initial screening test. This phenomenon is most likely to occur in Australia because here, the cut-off level of Morphine (opiate) in urine testing is fairly low (at an average of 300ng/ml) compared with the United States (where the average is 2000ng/ml) according to the current statistics. Usually, initial screening test kits are a bit more sensitive than the target cut-off levels, which increase the chances of receiving a false-positive result instead of a false-positive result.

False positive results can be received via another source, which is the environment. For instance, in a study conducted on children belonging to families where crack cocaine was tested the findings revealed that around 85% of the children shows positive hair drug results for cocaine (Smith & Kidwell, 1996).

Pharmaceuticals – These are substances that have the potential of producing concentrations during a screening test (either on-site or in the lab) which can be high enough to influence the results. Such results can be interpreted as positive and this category of results is termed as “Consistent with Declared Medications” (or “CWDM”). It is important that the company’s policy is prepared for the probability of such results because they can treat them as surrogate negative results without any consequences after lab confirmatory testing is completed. In normal risk analysis investigation, an evaluation of the individual’s relative risk with the undertaken work must be done. There have been situations where individuals were prescribed alternative medications possessing less potential risk of injury or harm instead of what was previously prescribed. This of course is a favourable outcome but may not get identified every time.

False Negatives – On-site drug testing kits are prone to some inherent limitations as far as sensitivity, that is failure in detecting that the drug class has exceeded a certain level, is concerned. This may be caused by technological limitations (not to be overlooked that some drug types are in extremely low levels in some particular matrices and may not get detected accurately) that makes the generation of accurate readings difficult. The generation of false positives and false negatives is made more likely by the sensitivity issues especially if the drug is present very close to the cut-off level concentration. If the level if out of the range of its equivalent boundary then the sensitivity (regarding the occurrence of false positive and false negative results) considerably improves.

Confirmation Testing and Proficiency Testing – As a product of the above mentioned issues and the complications that follow suit, it is of paramount importance that the non-negative results received during initial screening are referred to an approved lab for further confirmation testing. Samples analysis in the lab is done through incorporating highly sensitive Gas/Liquid Chromatography. This process is highly specific and much more sensitive than the screening devices and produces quantitative results. These results are then compared to the confirmatory cut-off tables to determine for the final time the readings as positive or negative. To increase the likelihood of true negative and true positive results from Collection Agencies, proficiency testing programs are designed as well.

Smith, F.P & Kidwell, D.A (1996). “Cocaine in hair, saliva, skin swabs and urine of cocaine users’ children. Forensic Science International, 83, 179-189.

Are there any consequences involved in drug and alcohol testing?

Only through some sort of penalty or consequence will the behaviour be modified specifically for those individuals who opt not to comply with an education program that follows after a testing program.

An example of this situation is the Australian drink driving situation. If we drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, then there are full chances of us losing our driver’s license, losing our job, killing someone else, or killing ourselves.

This explains the forthcoming situations in case any one of us is caught while driving after drinking. Government educational programs such as the ones we regularly watch through TV, radio, billboard and media ads teach us about the dangers involved. A combination of consequences and education can prompt an alteration in our behaviours and can make roads a safer place to travel with our families.

Similar philosophy and principles are required to be introduced in a workplace oriented drug and alcohol program. There has to be some consequences clearly laid out in case a breach of the policy occur. Only this can change behaviours.

Moreover, education should be given so that the workforce becomes aware about the dangerous outcomes of working under the influence of drugs and alcohol and to propose beneficial measures for eradicating the urge for drugs and alcohol. Opting for only one of the above mentioned approaches will not be helpful and will most likely induce negligible impact. Similarly, if drink driving doesn’t involve consequences and just education is provided then the incidences of fatalities and accidents due to drunk drivers will continue to haunt us for a long time just as it has haunted us in the previous decades.

How are drug testing policies beneficial?

Drug and alcohol programs can produce positive results even from the initial stages of the program. Managements may sometimes be unaware of the intensity or extent of drug and alcohol abuse by their employees until after the program is introduced.

In addition to this, employees can realise the extent of their drug or alcohol consumption and learn to modify their consumption behaviour. This of course, improves the safety conditions for the overall workforce and their workmates no longer feel scared or empathetic towards them.

Do we require a drug & alcohol policy?

A drug and alcohol policy is extremely important for ensuring comprehensive safe and secure conditions at a workplace and is a vital element of a workplace oriented Drug and Alcohol Program. It is important because the policy:

  • clarifies the testing process to the workforce
  • establishes the company’s guarantee of ensuring workplace safety
  • describes how different situations will be dealt with for instance refusal to test, medication related issues and first, second, and third cases of determining a positive result.
  • counts towards Courts or Industrial Commissions

Introducing a drug & alcohol policy:

Introduction of a drug and alcohol policy is equally important as the policy itself. Usually companies benefit greatly from encouraging close interaction with staff members during the process of policy development. This also greatly aids in encouraging program acceptance and improves the overall “ownership” of the policy. Some methods can be utilised in this regard for facilitating a smooth implementation of the policy. These include:

  • inviting industry experts for staff counselling and to clarify the health impacts of drug usage along with explaining the testing procedure.
  • highlighting the personal and professional benefits that may be acquired through the testing program
  • including employee assistance programs is strongly recommended in any such testing program because it ensures that anyone and everyone having “issues” about the program have the opportunity of discussing it.
  • involving a feedback process. It is important to keep the staff members informed about the process at earlier stages before initiating the testing process.

Read our posts on introducing a drug and alcohol policy, and download our free whitepaper on drug and alcohol policy development here.

Conversely, you can browse our personal breathalyzers here:

For information and assistance with drug testing Australia workplace employees, be sure to talk to our workplace drug testing experts on 1300 800 200 (AU) or +613 8899 6900 (International) for a free consultation.

Jaka Exstrada

Jaka Exstrada

Jaka has been a long-standing employee with Andatech, and has a background in events, marketing, and hospitality business management. An accredited Drug and Alcohol Officer for Drug Abuse Testing, Jaka brings valuable insight into the fields of drug testing. With his knowledge, companies also consult Jaka for drug and alcohol policies, and regulations- all of which he provides briefs on drug abuse information in the workplace.


Share your thoughts with us below.