Limits of Interpreting A Drug Test
By: Kelly Hack, Content Writer
There are many variables regarding the analyses of substance abuse testing. Clients will often ask about specifics pertaining to the determination of time, dose and frequency when detecting substance(s) of abuse.
When testing a reservoir matrix- a material or substance, which can accumulate and retain drug and alcohol biomarkers (eg., urine, blood, hair, nail, umbilical cord, or meconium, etc.), the reported quantitation of a drug or its metabolite cannot be used to determine when/if a specific substance was used, how much of a substance was used or how often a substance was used. Test results show only if a substance was detected or not detected.
A specimen’s window of detection provides an estimated timeframe for detecting substance(s) of abuse. Based on extensive research studies, the generally accepted windows of detection for specimens used in our testing are as follows:
- Scalp Hair- Up to approximately 3 months prior to collection.
- Fingernail- Up to approximately 3-6 months prior to collection.
- Umbilical Cord- Up to approximately 20 weeks prior to birth.
- Meconium- Up to approximately 20 weeks prior to birth.
- Urine- Up to approximately 2-3 days prior to collection.
- Blood (PEth)-May be up to approximately 2-4 weeks prior to collection.
It is important to know that the interpretation of drug testing results may be determined by a Medical Review Officer (MRO). A Medical Review Officer is a licensed physician (MD or DO) who has knowledge of substance abuse disorders and has appropriate medical training to interpret and evaluate an individual’s positive test result together with his or her medical history and any other relevant biomedical information.1This is an incredibly important aspect of drug testing. A laboratory can detect substances, but a MRO may be used to interpret what that detection means.
1.Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: (January 2003-Volume 45-Issue 1-p 102-103) Quaifications of medical Review Officers (MRO’s) in Regulated and Nonregulated Drug Testing. Departments: ACOEM Consensus Opinion Statement
By Joseph Salerno
The need for opiate and drug testing has grown in the last three decades. 2.4 million people in the United States abused opioid pain relievers in 1985, the year before President Ronald Reagan announced his Federal Drug-Free Workplace Program.1 That number swelled to 4.9 million – a 104% increase – by 2012.2 During that same time, the population of the United States grew only 32%.
The original opiate testing panel created in 1986 is an incomplete tool for today’s drug testing needs. No other category of drugs has evolved as much as opiates and opioids. Addiction to high strength pain relievers and newer opioid compounds has eclipsed codeine, morphine, and heroin addiction addressed by the original 1986 five-panel drug test.
Based on the most recent data on emergency department visits related to illicit substance abuse, it is clear that opiate and opioid abuse has shifted dramatically. Screening for opiate abuse using only 1986 drug testing guidelines for the opiate drug class misses the past 30 years of pharmaceutical and drug testing advancements.3
1. United States Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Drug Abuse. National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 1985. ICPSR06844-v3. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2013-06-19.
2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-46, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4795. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013.
3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2011: National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4760 Series D-39. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Admin., 2013.
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