Workplace drug testing, different matrices different objectives

Drug Test Anal. 2012 Feb;4(2):83-8. doi: 10.1002/dta.399.


Drug testing is used by employers to detect drug use by employees or job candidates. It can identify recent use of alcohol, prescription drugs, and illicit drugs as a screening tool for potential health and safety and performance issues. Urine is the most commonly used sample for illicit drugs. It detects the use of a drug within the last few days and as such is evidence of recent use; but a positive test does not necessarily mean that the individual was impaired at the time of the test. Abstention from use for three days will often produce a negative test result. Analysis of hair provides a much longer window of detection, typically 1 to 3 months. Hence the likelihood of a falsely negative test using hair is very much less than with a urine test. Conversely, a negative hair test is a substantially stronger indicator of a non-drug user than a negative urine test. Oral fluid (saliva) is also easy to collect. Drugs remain in oral fluid for a similar time as in blood. The method is a good way of detecting current use and is more likely to reflect current impairment. It offers promise as a test in post-accident, for cause, and on-duty situations. Studies have shown that within the same industrial settings, hair testing can detect twice as many drug users as urine testing.

MeSH terms

  • Hair / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / analysis*
  • Illicit Drugs / urine*
  • Saliva / chemistry*
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*
  • Workplace


  • Illicit Drugs