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The Reliability of Urine Testing

urine testing

Many employers, schools, athletic associations and law enforcement agencies are conducting more frequent drug and alcohol testing. While there are many testing methods out there, the most commonly on-site drug test used is urine testing. Due to the nature of how urine testing is conducted and the manner in which the sample is provided, the reliability of its test results may come in to question.

How Urine Testing Works

Urine testing can be broken down into 2 steps: retrieving the sample and testing the sample.

Retrieving the Urine Sample

In order to ensure that the sample is as authentic as possible, the test should be administered with the following guidelines:

  • The subject should be searched before entering the bathroom to provide the sample, to ensure nothing is in the subject’s possession that could be used to alter the sample.
  • 45 milliliters of urine is needed in order for the test to be conducted.
  • Ensure the sample has been sealed, its temperature is assessed and falls within the predicted range of 96-99 degrees, and keep visual contact with the sample at all times.
  • In some extreme cases, a nurse/technician of the same gender may accompany the subject to ensure the proper procedure is followed.

How the Urine Test Is Conducted

There are two ways in which the test can be conducted:

  1. Test Card/Strip: A test card is used against the sample to detect any illegal drug usage or its’ less commonly used purpose – alcohol abuse. Also known as the immunoassay test, the results display as either positive or negative based on a cut-off point.
  2. Lab Analysis: The sample is sent to the lab for thorough and detailed analyzing.

The test is designed to pick up any indication of the use of depressants, narcotics, opiates, stimulants and hallucinogens. Although each drug has their window of detection, urine tests can detect drug use up to five days after usage. It should also be noted that while tests are fairly accurate, it can only detect drugs which have been metabolized in the body since the urine test measures the way in which the drug affects the body’s immune system. Meaning it would not give an indication of whether a person is affected by that substance currently or even consumed it on the same day.

Advantages of Using Urine Testing

Below are some of the advantages in using this testing method:

  • Longer detection period for drug usage.
  • It’s non-evasive and easy to administer.
  • The on-site test is relatively inexpensive.
  • It can be used for different testing reasons: pre-employment, condition of employment, post-accident and random testing.
  • The test is dependable and has a long history of being used as evidence in cases.

Ways in Which Testing Results Can Be Altered

The subject is virtually alone when providing the sample, providing an opportunity for the sample to be tampered with. Below are a few ways in which the subject can falter the urine sample:

  • Swapping Samples: The subject uses a friend’s drug free urine and submits this as the test sample instead of his/her own. Synthetic urine has also become available for purchase online and subjects can use this to pass drug tests.
  • Diluting: Consuming large amounts of water or fluids will dilute the urine and may affect the presence of chemicals. Luckily, labs have also instituted additional tests to measure overly diluted samples.
  • Ingesting Detoxing Vitamins: Detoxing products can quicken the pace at which the body expels fluids from its system. This method is considered dangerous and not entirely effective.
  • Degrading the Sample: Simple things like salt, vinegar or even bleach can be used to alter the results of test. It can simply be added to the sample when the subject is alone.

The urine test is considered one of the most used drug tests but also has its own risk factors. Alternative drug testing such as blood, saliva and more recently sweat patches can also be used for further verification. With so many ways in which a urine sample can be tainted, doing a secondary lab test is always recommended to ensure the result is more reliable.

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