The Random Drug Testing Process: What is the Cycle of Drug Testing?

Drug addiction is major concern in virtually every country. The fight against illicit substance abuse intensifies as authorities continue to discover new man-made drugs. Since it may be impossible to eradicate drugs altogether, random drug testing is an important step in reducing occupational risks while improving quality of life in the workplace.

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What Drugs do Employers Test For?

It’s easier than ever before to access illegal substances. The drugs most commonly found in the workplace include:






Prescription drugs, i.e. opiates

Over-the-counter medications, i.e. codeine cough syrup

Most often, employers request for a 5-panel drug test or a 10-panel drug test. The 5-panel drug test will test for the presence of:



Opiates such as heroin, codeine, and morphine

Phencyclidine (PCP)

THC (marijuana)

Traffickers seek to create new drugs that mimic the effects of illicit substances and simultaneously evade government inspection. These drugs usually cost less than government approved substances since they are not manufactured to standard and often contain impure compounds. People as young as 12 years old can easily buy these online through shadowy ecommerce channels.

Who is required to undergo a Drug Test?

Many employees work long, stressful hours, and consequently use performance-enhancing stimulants to help them get their tasks done efficiently. Over half of all companies in the country enforce an anti-drug policy, partly in response to overactive workers.

Employees who display obvious signs of workplace intoxication may be under surveillance and at risk of having to submit to a reasonable suspicion test.

Mandatory drug testing is required for workers in safety-sensitive professionals, including aircraft, railroad, motor vehicle, and machinery operators.

What is a Random Drug Testing Policy?

A random drug testing policy is a document that declares the requirements and conditions of drug screening within a facility or workplace. Requirements for drug testing will vary under each state, and are subject to further customization under the employer. It is the responsibility of employers and Human Resource professionals to maintain state compliance and amend the company’s drug testing policy to accommodate any changes. Currently 18 states have articulated drug testing provisions.

A documented policy must exist prior to subjecting employees to mandatory drug testing; furthermore, employees must be notified a policy exists. Conditions for testing should be clearly stated, and a signature of agreement should be obtained from all workers.

Apart from the drug testing mandated to employees, the company is also required to provide substance abuse awareness training to inform the employees of the negative effects of drugs. The company should also aid individuals who may have been tested positive for drugs by referring them to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Employees who successfully complete rehabilitation may be able to work again after passing a return-to-duty test.

Drug Testing in the Workplace

Different factors should be considered before deciding on the type of drug screen to implement in a workplace testing program:

Type of drug(s) used

How often the drug is used

Concentration or dosage of drug(s) used 

Donor’s metabolism

Sensitivity of drug test

Companies would like to ensure that each individual working for them is doing the job that is expected of them. By giving importance to the health of safety in the workplace, this creates a positive impact on the employees. This also earns the company a good name in return wherein shareholders, suppliers and customers gain their trust.

Pre-employment Drug Testing

Job applicants are asked to undergo a laboratory drug test prior to employment. Company pre-employment drug testing procedures must abide by any regulations already imposed by the laws of the state(s) wherein which the business operates.

Random Drug Testing

No announcement is required before issuing a random drug test; however, this method of testing must be clearly articulated and agreed upon by every employee. Random selection should be conducted electronically to ensure equal and fair screening among all workers. Random screening is arguably the strongest deterrent to drug use.

Post-Accident Drug Testing

A post-accident drug test must be issued no longer than 12-24 hours after an accident or injury. As the name suggests, this type of drug testing is used to rule out drugs or alcohol as the cause of an incident.

Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing

Also known as probable-cause testing, this type of screening is conducted after observable signs of impairment are documented by supervisors on any number of occasions. Supervisors must complete elaborate training to recognize actual symptoms of drug abuse in employees; otherwise, the risk of discrimination may arise.

Return-To-Work Drug Testing

Individuals who have previously tested positive and undergone rehabilitation are allowed to return to work provided their return-to-duty test result is negative.

Mandatory Drug Testing

Mandatory drug testing for all employees ensures workplace safety without the risk of discriminating towards certain employees. Certain industries are required to implement mandatory drug testing, i.e. construction, mining, aviation, transportation, and professional sports.

Types of Drug Testing

Different biological specimens can be screened for drugs of abuse. The type of specimen tested will provide unique detection time ranges and concentration cut-off levels. The most commonly used drug testing types in the workplace:

Urine drug tests

Urine drug test cups and dip cards are the most popular screening tool. This testing method is the most affordable and minimally invasive. Urine drug tests include instant immunoassays, thin layer chromatography, gas spectrometry and mass spectrometry (GC/MS).

Saliva drug tests

Oral fluid devices are non-invasive, immediate, and can detect the presence of as many drugs as a standard urine test. This drug testing method is frequently implemented by staffers and recruiters.

Hair drug tests

Hair follicle exams can detect the presence of drugs up to 90 days after abuse with utmost accuracy as hair specimens are only processed in a laboratory setting.

How Do Drug Tests Work?

Here is a basic framework of a typical drug test:

An individual who is scheduled to undergo a drug test is requested to provide a biological sample to an accredited laboratory (sample may be divided in two for confirmation testing). If an instant test is ordered, the sample can be interpreted immediately by a third party collector.

Once a laboratory-processed sample is passed off to a Medical Review Officer, the second-half of the sample is tested using GC/MS is performed to confirm initial findings.

The employers are provided with complete and clear custody and control forms which are submitted via mail or email.

Process for Random Drug Testing

Employees should be fully aware that a random drug testing is being implemented by the company. The reason for random drug testing is to ensure that each and every employee is in their optimum state of health.

Additionally, it is a deterrent to individuals who may be using illegal substances. This way, the fear of getting caught will be always in their mind, which will eventually result from stopping them from using drugs or alcohol.

At least 50% of all employees should be randomly tested each year. The random drug testing should either be performed on a weekly basis or on a monthly basis.

Appeal Process for Drug Testing

In instances where a student or an athlete would like to appeal regarding the positive drug result or has violated a drug testing protocol, their respective institutions may help them raise their concerns. They have the right to submit a formal appeal within 48 hours of the positive test notification meeting to the concerned committee or authority.

Upon submission of the appeal, Specimen B will be tested. Depending on the type of substance being tested, the result will be received between 1-3 days. If the specimen tests negative, the drug test will be considered negative and the individual concerned will be cleared from any sanctions.

If the test turns out positive, appropriate sanctions will be given to the individual.

The test should provide a clear indication that the presence of a drug metabolite came from an illicit substance and not by any other over-the-counter medication, which can also possibly result to a positive drug test due to its similar drug structure. False positive results are likely to happen on certain medications.

Treatment Options for Drug Abuse

The choice of medication given to individuals depends on the symptoms experienced by the drug user. For instance, physical signs of methamphetamine use must be identified to determine the right treatment option for methamphetamine abuse.

These may include detoxification, a method of slowly reducing the amount of illegal substance in the body until the individual is free from experiencing withdrawal symptoms caused by the drug. Along with this, psychological rehabilitation may also be required.

Understandably, the effect of using drugs for a long time may take its toll on the person’s ability to reason and think normally. Due to the negative effects of the drugs, these individuals may suffer from psychosis and depressive disorders.

It would be helpful that the main reason for using drugs be addressed properly so that the individual may slowly learn to see things in a different perspective and may also develop a better understanding on such situation.

More importantly, the love and support of the family can boost the complete recovery of the individual.


As more companies implement drug testing, members of the workforce should be aware of their rights and responsibilities. Each person working in a drug-free workplace should know how the drug testing process works. That way, they will be able to know what steps to do in case of untoward results or potential confusion along the way.