Congratulations! You’ve got the job … pending results of a pre-employment drug screen. What happens next?
Drug testing is common, particularly in organizations where sobriety is critical to job function, such as jobs that require driving, the operation of heavy machinery, or patient care. But any Oregon employer can require drug testing as a condition of employment to help rule out candidates who might be a safety risk to themselves and others.
“The drug screening test shows recent drug use, and if someone is unable to stop using a drug in order to get a job before a scheduled drug screen, then they definitely have an abuse problem,” said Charles Pederson, MD, who serves as medical director and certified Medical Review Officer (MRO) for Samaritan Occupational Medicine.
The program conducts an average of 50 drug tests each day, screening for drugs specified by the employer, such as marijuana, opiates, methamphetamine and cocaine.
What Is Tested & How
A urine test is the most common method of testing. A urinalysis will reveal the presence of a drug in the system even after drug effects have worn off, although the length of time varies by drug. For example, marijuana can be detected in urine from anywhere to a few days up to a full month, depending on a number of individual factors such as the amount of body fat in a person, or how much of the drug was used.
Some employers will conduct their own onsite drug testing. “These tests provide only a non-negative result and cannot confirm a positive result,” Pederson noted. “A non-negative result with this test would require an additional confirmatory test at a qualified collection center.”
The hair testing method detects drug use over the longest window of time, sometimes up to three months for a drug like marijuana, Pederson said. “The drug gets incorporated into the hair follicle and will show up when the hair is tested.”
Once a sample of hair or urine is collected, the sample is analyzed at a certified laboratory. If the test results in a positive reading, meaning there is drug residue in the body, the results are forwarded to a medical review officer, who reviews the results and looks for any possible valid medical explanation for the results.
“As a medical review officer, I would review a patient’s medical history. If the individual has a valid medical explanation for the result, this can be sorted out and the test will be reported as negative.” Dr. Pederson said.
Although the test may be reported as negative, the medication may still inhibit an individual’s job safety or performance. This is another aspect of drug testing that requires the expertise of a certified MRO.
“If someone is prescribed a narcotic, and driving is part of their job, this may be passed on to the employer as a negative test with potential safety concerns for the employer to consider,” Dr. Pederson said.
A common question with drug testing is why marijuana is still being tested for, since it is now legal in Oregon. However, the drug continues to be illegal on the federal level, preventing federal agencies or organizations that receive federal funding from allowing it in their employees. There is also a need to balance legality with the drug’s known effects on the body.
“We see a lot more marijuana use now. Some employers don’t have a problem with it, but others do, since it can impair one’s ability to work,” Dr. Pederson said.
There is a difference between impairment and a positive drug test, he added.
“Someone may smoke marijuana only on the weekends, for instance, which doesn’t necessarily impact their on-the-job performance, and yet, it would still show up as positive on the test,” he said.
In those cases, as well as incidences of prescription medications prompting false-positives, it is important to use a quality drug screening tool and receive an evaluation by a medical review officer to get the most accurate results.
Learn more about the many services available to protect the safety and health of employees through Samaritan Occupational Medicine at 541-812-5600. Services are available at locations in Albany, Corvallis, Lincoln City and Newport.