American job candidates and employees in high-security positions (such as transportation, security, construction, and manufacturing) are used to surrendering their civil right to involuntary search and seizure by submitting to pre-employment drug tests. Employers consider these tests necessary to promote job safety and comply with federal laws that apply to government agencies and their contractors.
Many drug tests do not measure the presence of illegal substances such as marijuana, cocaine, and opiates in the blood. Instead, they measure levels of drug after-effects, called metabolites.
The body’s metabolic system changes drugs after they are ingested and produces residual metabolites that can be detected by testing samples of urine, hair, blood, and breath. Tests for metabolites reveal that drugs have been in a person’s body, but do not indicate that they are actively present at the time of testing.
Most drugs are detectable in the blood, saliva, or urine for up to eight hours. A hair test can identify drug metabolites for as much as 90 days after use!
Urine tests identify the presence of metabolites and are used extensively by employers nationwide. Drug testing – termed the Toxicology Laboratories industry – is generating huge revenues for their manufacturers:
“Over the past five years, the Toxicology Laboratories industry has grown by 6.2% to reach revenue of $3bn in 2018.” That’s 3 BILLION DOLLARS this year alone.
Leading the pack of toxicology labs are Abbott Laboratories and Quest Diagnostics Inc.
Excess body metabolites that aren’t burned off are stored in the fast-growing cells that make up hair, fat cells (adipose tissues), and nails. Consequently, the more body fat a person has can store more drug metabolites which, in turn, can be detected for longer periods of time as compared to a leaner test subject.
The amount of time drugs linger in human body fluids and breath vary widely among individuals. General health, physiology (organic processes), height, weight, body mass and percentage of body fat, age, level of fitness, and even mental state all influence how long residual drug effects remain in a person’s body, ready for drug detection.
There are several problems with drug-metabolite tests. One is that metabolites for certain substances remain in the body for days, weeks, even months.
Notably, metabolites produced by consuming THC (the active, mind-altering component in marijuana) can linger at levels above threshold testing detection limits for four to six weeks, or even longer in chronic cases – well after the user stops feeling the effects or is actively impaired.
A new and improved saliva mouth swab test addresses that issue. Along with their more expensive blood test counterparts, saliva tests identify the parent compounds of a specific drug rather than its metabolites.
Saliva tests can identify the presence of these drugs:
- Cannabinoid (THC)
- Ethyl Alcohol
- Opiates (codeine, morphine, 6-acetylmorphine)
- Phencyclidine (PCP)
Blood and saliva tests are more accurate than urine tests and show how much of a given drug is actively present in the body. The presence of drugs in saliva indicate that the drug entered the bloodstream.
Saliva tests collect oral fluids by means of a swab. Results of these tests correlate more closely to actual blood concentrations at the time of sampling. They produce high validity (truth) of drug ingestion for the previous 48 hours. In other words, saliva tests reveal recent drug use rather than long-term use.
“Oral fluid (saliva) testing has the ability to detect drug use within the first few hours, a window of time that can be missed by urine testing, and to detect most drugs from 1 to 4 days after last use,” according to drug-screening company CleanFleet.
Another problem with urine tests that detect drug metabolites is that they can be “gamed” or cheated rather easily. For example, a wide variety of pre-test toxin-flushing products are available online or at specialty “head” shops.
These flush products require consuming gallons of water to dilute THC metabolites and include chemicals that raise creatinine levels (the two primary markers of marijuana use) before a test is administered to alter the results from positive (fail) to negative (pass).
Alternatively, synthetic urine can be purchased, or a clean friend’s sample may be substituted and provided in the sample collection cup by means of cleverly-concealed contraptions that are basically bladders with valved tubes.
(In an interesting side note, infamous 1960s anti-war and anarchist radical Abbie Hoffman, author of Steal This Book, was found dead in April 1989, two years after he co-wrote another book titled Steal this Urine Test. Although officials ruled his demise a suicide, many believe the government shut him up for good. Theirs, not his. Hoffman himself did not use illegal drugs, but advocated the citizens’ right to choose.)
Saliva tests detect active drug components in the blood system rather than residual metabolites and are, therefore, much harder to fool.
The third problem with urine tests is that they are invasive and embarrassing for current or prospective employees to undergo. After all, these people simply want to work and earn income. Non-drug users must prove their truthfulness chemically by an outside agency (testing laboratory) – and risk a false positive result.
Oral swab tests are administered openly and in plain sight rather than in a bathroom stall. They do not put bladder-shy individuals on the spot with a demand to produce a urine sample while being monitored, often through open doors, by a watchful clinician. Clothes pockets do not have to be emptied (warrantless search) and there is nothing embarrassing about wetting a lollipop-type swab inserted in the mouth.
Because saliva tests are convenient, low-cost, cheat-proof, and provide on-the-spot results with the expense and wait-time for laboratory results, they have recently become the #1 toxicity testing choice among U.S. employers.
Currently, federal employers and their contractor companies are not allowed to use saliva tests on their workforce. However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is lobbying to include saliva testing at federal worksites.