Drug testing is an increasingly common practice in the workplace as many employers believe that it ensures a safe and healthy work environment. Random tests are also often required for individuals on probation or parole, and these tests aim to reduce recidivism rates while helping people return to society without supervision.
Employers may require random drug tests to promote workplace efficiency and maintain productivity levels among staff. Drug testing can also help employers reduce their insurance costs and decrease losses from employee mistakes.
Random testing is typically required in industries where safety is a priority, such as transportation, construction and manufacturing. It’s also required in healthcare, government and military sectors as well as some customer service settings. Employees in these industries are frequently subject to testing, either randomly or after a workplace accident. Individuals working through a probationary sentence may also have to take a drug test after a violation of their sentence.
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What Is a False Positive Test Result?
A false positive happens when a laboratory report indicates the presence of a drug in the sample when, in fact, it isn’t there. This situation can occur when a substance similar to the drug in question is present in the sample or if a preservative used in the collection process mimics the properties of a drug. False positive results happen more often than you may expect. When they do, employers should review the results as well as the testing process to ensure accuracy.
The best defense for a positive drug test is to be prepared before it happens. Before your employer conducts a drug test, know the laws in your area. Also, know your rights and understand which substances are prohibited where you live and work.
It’s also important to know which types of tests you might take and the standard cutoff levels for each. For example, a urinalysis test can detect trace amounts of cannabis in the system for up to 90 days. And if a positive test result is genuine, you might simply talk to your boss about your drug habit. Many employers will agree to help their workers go through rehabilitation instead of terminating their employment.
Common Types of Drug Tests
Employers may require different types of drug tests, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Urine tests are the most common as they’re the most non-invasive and cost-effective. Although some products claim to mask the presence of drugs in urine, a urinalysis test will generally be able to detect these masking agents.
Urine tests work by detecting the presence of specific chemicals associated with drugs in a urine sample. These chemicals are called metabolites and are produced when a drug is metabolized in the body.
They can detect the presence of cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates and related compounds. Depending on the quality of the test, results may be available within minutes or subsequently go to a laboratory for more detailed analysis. One drawback of urine tests is that they can tell only whether a drug is present in the body but not how much of it is there.
Urine tests are used in workplaces, schools and criminal justice settings. Organizations use them to enforce drug-free policies, detect the use of illegal drugs and monitor drug use in those on probation or parole. Urine tests can also detect the presence of prescription drugs in the body.
Saliva tests are increasingly popular as they’re relatively easy to administer and can detect drugs taken within a few hours of ingestion. Hair tests are less common, but they provide a longer window of detection, usually up to 90 days. Blood tests are the most accurate, but they’re also the most expensive and invasive.
Blood sample tests are common in the healthcare industry and in situations where an employer needs to know if an employee is under the influence of drugs at the time of the test. Blood tests are also common in drug rehab centers, law enforcement agencies and the court system.
Hair sample tests can detect a wide range of drugs, including cannabis, cocaine, opiates, methamphetamine, amphetamines and derivative compounds. The test requires a hair from the back of the head, near the nape of the neck, usually cut close to the scalp.
Because substances will show up in a hair sample test for up to 90 days, these tests are effective at identifying long-term drug use. Although they’re relatively expensive, hair sample tests are gaining popularity in private businesses as they’re both accurate and minimally invasive.
Reasons for False Positive Results
A drug test can come back positive for many reasons. Usually, it means that a substance really did show up in the system, but lab errors and sample contamination can occasionally produce false results. If you’ve tested positive for a banned substance, the cause could be a food, medicine or supplement you’ve recently ingested. Employers and lab technicians understand the risk of false positive results, and they’ll generally be willing to retest the sample at your request.
Medications that can cause a false positive include antibiotics, antidepressants, antihistamines and some over-the-counter cold medicines. Many dietary supplements, such as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, contain ingredients similar to some controlled drugs. Likewise, some herbal supplements and derivatives mimic the effect of drugs such as opium and cannabis.
Poppy seeds may contain trace amounts of opium, and huge quantities of poppy seeds have been known to cause false positive results. Similarly, certain energy drinks, herbal supplements and other over-the-counter products may contain trace amounts of amphetamines. Legal drugs, such as Kratom and Delta 8 THC, may also cause positive drug test results.
Many over-the-counter medications contain active ingredients that are similar to those found in illegal drugs. For example, the active ingredient in some cold and flu medications is similar to methamphetamines. Similarly, the active ingredient in some sleeping pills is similar to benzodiazepines.
Legal Recourse Following Positive Test Results
Employers should have a clear and comprehensive drug testing policy for their employees. This policy should include a clear description of the types of drugs under scrutiny, procedures for administering tests and the consequences for a positive result. The policy should also clearly articulate employees’ rights, and you should consider discussing this policy with your employer before ever taking a test.
Legal options are available to employees who test positive for drugs. If the positive result is false, the employee may sue the employer for wrongful termination and other damages. The employee may also seek compensation for lost wages if the employer has violated their rights or acted in a discriminatory way.
Because employers and labs are aware of the consequences of a false positive, they tend to be overly cautious in making decisions based on drug test results. While legal recourse is available to wrongfully terminated workers, it’s almost always a measure of last resort.
Drug Testing in the Workplace
The industries that routinely administer employee drug tests include law enforcement, professional sports, transportation, construction, education, defense and security. The healthcare industry typically conducts urine, saliva or hair sample tests to detect drugs or alcohol and identify any potential drug abuse. Tests are usually random or part of a pre-employment drug screening process.
In law enforcement, drug tests ensure that officers and staff adhere to a drug-free work policy. The most common types of tests in law enforcement are urinalysis and blood sample tests. Agencies may test officers randomly or when there’s reasonable suspicion of drug use.
In professional sports, drug testing is intentionally strict to ensure a level playing field. Organizations such as the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association all have stringent drug testing policies to protect the integrity of their sports. Specific policies depend on the league and may include random, pre- and post-season testing. If an athlete tests positive, they can be subject to fines, suspensions or expulsion.
What to Do If You Test Positive
The first step after receiving positive test results is to verify the procedure. Contact the drug testing agency and carefully review the testing process to ensure its accuracy. You may also want to obtain a copy of the test results for your records.
After verifying the results, learn about your company’s policies and procedures for dealing with positive test results if you haven’t done so already. You could be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination, so thoroughly review any available handbooks or bylaws on the subject.
Above all, you should understand your rights as an employee and any legal implications of a positive test result. Depending on the state where you live, you may have certain employee protections at your disposal.
The next step is to gather evidence for your defense. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to see if the positive result could have come from any medications or supplements you’ve recently taken. If so, you should send a sample of those substances to the lab for testing.
Defending Your Rights After a Positive Test
Administrative error is one of the most common causes of false positives. This type of error can include mistakes in the testing process or even improper paperwork. In some cases, a lab technician may accidentally switch testing samples or contaminate them with the wrong reagent.
The best way to protect against administrative error is to ensure that all paperwork is filed correctly and that testing occurs only in a sterile environment. A reliable third-party testing facility can help ensure that the results are accurate.
Medical evidence can be a key defense against false positive results. Official medical records or blood work can demonstrate that positive results stem from a medical condition, medication or other legitimate source.
While there is legal recourse against a false positive, it’s important to act swiftly as the burden of proof lies solely with the employee. If you’ve tested positive, you should immediately contact an attorney and request a retest to confirm the results.
If the test results reflect negligence or incompetence, you may be entitled to compensation for lost wages or emotional distress. Alternatively, you may negotiate terms for reinstatement to your former job with full back pay and benefits.
The best way to negotiate with an employer is to prepare your defense in advance so that you can present a solid argument. Always be honest and transparent about your situation and be ready to provide evidence that you haven’t used drugs to enhance your work performance.
Be open and honest with your employer about the steps you’re taking to ensure that a similar incident won’t happen in the future. As always, maintain a respectful and professional tone throughout the dialogue and consider what compromises you’re willing to make for a mutually beneficial outcome.
Dealing With Positive Results
As an employee, take the time to learn about your rights regarding drug testing in the workplace. Learn about the testing process and what steps you can take in the event of a false positive. If you want to confirm the results, you can always request a second test based on the original testing sample.
Before you take a drug test, talk to your employer about the possibility of a false positive and the steps they can take to ensure testing accuracy. This may include ensuring testing consistency and verifying lab certification. Employers must also clearly inform employees of their rights and make a good-faith effort to treat all workers fairly.
Drug testing can be stressful and, at times, overwhelming, especially when a positive result could mean disciplinary action or termination. Whether you suspect a lab error or dietary causes of a false positive, don’t wait to take action. And if you simply need help dealing with an addiction, know that help is available
At Miracles Recovery Center, we work with patients suffering from addiction to alcohol, prescription medications and illegal drugs. While the possibility of losing your job may seem scary, with attentive counseling and a new outlook on life, you may find that it was the wake-up call you needed. Call us today at Miracles Recovery Center to learn more about your options.
Can a drug test result in a false positive?
Yes, drug tests can sometimes result in false positives due to various factors, such as cross-reactivity with certain medications, supplements, or food, lab errors, or test contamination.
What should I do if I receive a false positive drug test result?
If you receive a false positive drug test result, it is essential to inform the test administrator or your employer about any prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, or supplements you are taking, as these might have caused the false positive. Request a retest or a more accurate confirmatory test, such as gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), to verify the results.
Can prescription medications cause a positive drug test?
Some prescription medications can cause a positive drug test, depending on the substance being tested. For example, certain antidepressants, ADHD medications, and pain relievers can trigger a positive result. Always disclose any prescription medications you are taking to the test administrator or your employer.
Can over-the-counter medications or supplements cause a positive drug test?
Yes, some over-the-counter medications or supplements may cause a positive drug test. For example, certain cold medications, weight loss supplements, or sleep aids can contain ingredients that trigger a positive result. Make sure to inform the test administrator or your employer about any over-the-counter medications or supplements you are taking.
Can secondhand smoke cause a positive drug test?
While it is unlikely, it is possible to test positive for drugs due to secondhand smoke exposure in rare cases. The likelihood depends on the extent of exposure, the sensitivity of the test, and the substance being tested.
How can I challenge a positive drug test result?
To challenge a positive drug test result, you can request a retest or a confirmatory test, such as GC-MS. Provide documentation of any prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, or supplements you are taking, and consider consulting with a lawyer if necessary.
What are the consequences of a positive drug test?
The consequences of a positive drug test depend on the context in which the test was conducted. It may result in denial of employment, termination from a job, disqualification from sports events, or legal consequences in the case of probation or parole.
How accurate are drug tests?
The accuracy of drug tests varies depending on the type of test and the substances being tested. While immunoassay tests, such as urine tests, are commonly used for initial screenings, they are more prone to false positives. Confirmatory tests like GC-MS are more accurate but are typically more expensive and time-consuming.
Can I refuse a drug test?
Refusing a drug test may have consequences, depending on the context. For example, refusal to take a drug test in an employment setting may result in denial of a job or termination. In legal situations, refusal may lead to penalties or the presumption of guilt. Consult with a lawyer if you have concerns about refusing a drug test.
How long do drugs stay detectable in the body?
The detection window for drugs varies depending on the substance, the type of drug test, and individual factors such as metabolism, body fat, and frequency of use. Some substances can be detected for only a few hours, while others may be detectable for days or even weeks after use.
Can labs detect masking agents?
Yes, many sophisticated drug testing laboratories can detect the presence of masking agents in urine samples. Masking agents are substances taken with the intention to hide or alter the results of a drug or alcohol test. They work by diluting the urine or chemically altering the substance to reduce its detectability.
However, laboratories have developed multiple ways to detect these substances. Some of the approaches they use include:
- Specific Gravity Test: This is used to measure the concentration of the urine. If the specific gravity is unusually low, it may indicate that a person has consumed excessive water or a dilution agent to manipulate the test.
- pH Test: This test measures the acidity of the urine. Some masking agents can alter the pH of urine, making it either too acidic or too alkaline. Laboratories will consider test results as suspicious if the pH is outside of the normal range (typically between 4.6 and 8).
- Creatinine Level Test: Creatinine is a waste product that is normally excreted at a steady rate. If the level of creatinine in a person’s urine is abnormally low, it may suggest that the sample has been diluted.
- Testing for Known Masking Agents: Many labs also test directly for the presence of known masking agents or their metabolites. If these substances are detected, it’s a clear indication that an individual has tried to manipulate the test results.
- Temperature Check: Immediately after collection, the temperature of the urine sample is taken. A sample that is not within the normal body temperature range may indicate that it is not fresh or that it has been tampered with.
Therefore, while it is possible to use masking agents in an attempt to pass a drug test, it’s also important to understand that many modern drug testing labs are equipped to detect these attempts at deception.