When most people think about methodologies of drug testing – whether at work, at school, for a drug court, or in a treatment center – they think about pee in a cup. While urine is perhaps the most common specimen used to test for illicit drugs (source), it is just one of many options. Before you decide which type of sample you will use, consider alternative methods of drug testing. Hair follicle specimens and oral fluid both offer unique benefits and concerns and should be considered as viable alternatives to urine samples.
Alternative Methods of Drug Testing
Oral fluid, also known as saliva, has grown in popularity as a sample used in drug testing. It can detect drug use within a very short time after usage, reliably detecting substances an hour or less after ingestion and up to three days afterward (source). This early detection window is oral fluid’s most significant benefit as a drug testing specimen; no other methodology can detect drugs so quickly after ingestion. This unique capability makes oral fluid drug tests especially useful during post-accident and reasonable suspicion drug testing. However, it’s not the only benefit of oral fluid:
Benefits of Oral Fluid Specimens:
- With oral fluid, drug use can be detected shortly after usage. In fact, it can detect some drugs immediately after ingestion (source).
- Adulterating or substituting an oral fluid sample is very difficult, because it is always an observed method of drug testing.
- The oral fluid method is easily administered, because the pre-collection protocol is much simpler than that of urine testing.
- It greatly reduces “shy-bladder situations,” in which the donor is unable to provide a sufficient specimen, as sometimes occurs in urine testing.
- Oral fluid can be used to test for alcohol as well as illicit drugs.
- Of all the methods of collection for drug testing, it is the least invasive.
- The collection process for oral fluid is very simple and short, typically taking about 5-10 minutes.
- The turnaround time for oral fluid specimens is very comparable to urine; one day for negatives, and up to three days for positives.
Concerns About Oral Fluid Specimens:
- The window of detection for oral fluid (while early) is not long when compared to urine or hair testing. The detection window is 24-48 hours at best.
- Fewer drugs can be included in an oral fluid drug test when compared to urine. However, it can be used for 5-panel drug tests.
Not only can your hair reveal something about your stylistic past (outlandish haircuts, bold experiments with dye), but it can also divulge your history of drug use. Drug tests that employ hair follicles as samples are generally used to determine an individual’s history of drug usage as opposed to a single occurrence. No alternative methods of drug testing can compete with hair follicles when it comes to learning about a person’s use of drugs over time.
Benefits of Hair Follicle Specimens:
- Hair follicle samples provide a longer window of detection. In fact, the detection window for hair found on the head is 30 days per 1/2 inch of hair; it is 6-7 months for body hair.
- Hair follicle specimens are almost impossible to adulterate or substitute, as the entire collection process is directly and easily observed.
- Additional samples of hair can easily be obtained.
Concerns About Hair Follicle Specimens:
- Drugs cannot be detected immediately after ingestion with a hair follicle sample. Normally, three to five days must pass before drug usage is detectable.
- Donors can “avoid” the test if their bodies are clean-shaven.
- Hair follicle drug tests often require a period of usage (drug use over several days time) before drugs are detectable.
- A limited number of drugs can be included in a hair follicle drug test.
- The collection process for hair follicles is somewhat invasive. The specimens are typically collected from an area at the back of the head (the vertex posterior), where hair growth is relatively constant. Typically 120-150 hairs are required for the sample. Some technicians cut the sample in a narrow, horizontal band; others cut a small circular patch. Still others will cut hairs from a variety of areas to ensure the participant isn’t left with one patch of very short hair.
Sweat & Blood
Of course, oral fluid and hair are not the only alternative methods of drug testing. You might also wish to explore the merits of sweat and blood as specimens.
Sweat, collected through a wipe or patch, can produce a cumulative record of prior drug use. However, low concentrations of drugs are detectable in sweat, resulting in a high variability of detection. In addition, there is a limited collection of devices available for sweat drug testing, and the process is expensive and less established than other methods.
Blood testing is quite invasive and costly, making it less practical than other methodologies. Unlike urinalysis, it detects the presence of the parent drug (not inactive metabolites). Blood specimens have a very short detection window, especially for marijuana, and a long waiting time for results. While accurate and very difficult to adulterate, blood drug testing remains uncommon due to its cost and invasive nature.
If you’re debating whether you should use urinalysis or one of these alternative methods of drug testing, contact Tomo Drug Testing for help. We can help you further explore your options, so that you can select a testing methodology that reflects your wants, your needs, your concerns, and your budget. Based in Springfield (MO), St. Louis (MO), Kansas City (MO), Indianapolis (IN), and Evansville (IN), we offer customized solutions to make drug testing simple, and our nationwide network of clinics and providers allows Tomo Drug Testing to be available anytime, anywhere. For a free needs analysis, give us a call today at 1-888-379-7697 or contact us online. We would be happy to help!