You may recall earlier this month when we released a blog post about the pros and cons of different test types. One of the questions we received was to explain the different detection times certain drugs have in the body. Now, before diving right into the chart below, it should be known that these times may vary from person to person. There are a few factors, such as the type of user (single, moderate, heavy, or chronic), that may create for differing detection times. However, as a basis, these numbers should give you an estimate on how long certain drugs stay in a person’s system when using either oral fluid or urine drug testing methods.
(Source: U.S. Department of Energy Office of Health, Safety and Security)
Oral Fluid Detection Time
Urinalysis Detection Time
24-36 hours (casual use)
1-6 weeks (chronic use)
After examining the chart, it can be seen that the detection window is quite similar in regards to the different drugs in the oral fluid column. However, the times in which the drugs stay in the system when conducting a urine test is quite different from drug to drug. This may lead you to perceive one test as superior to another based on these detection windows. While detection windows may be a factor in your decision making, you should be aware that there are differences in their application that are important as well.
A urine drug test done in a laboratory setting is more accurate than other types of urine testing. Therefore, it is recommended that a laboratory-based urine drug test is conducted as it’s the most reliable solution. One downside would be that one would have to wait for the test result to come back, which could take a couple of days, but it will give the most legally defensible type of result. Point of collections screening options do exist and can reduce this time delay in specific situations if used properly. It is also recognized by the Construction Owners Association of Alberta (COAA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) as the leading practice within the testing industry.
While lab-based oral fluid drug testing is not the gold-standard that urine testing is it can be the best choice in certain situations. The test is simply administered, which makes it easy to train supervisors to perform. This is an advantage in situations where you have employees working in remote locations, where access to a fixed collection site may be difficult. Even though in many situations drugs and drug metabolites do not remain in oral fluids as long as they do in urine (as taken from the chart above), it will reflect a more recent drug use for certain substances, as well as having the testing process minimize the risk of any tampering.
Not an easy question to answer as there are many factors that should go into your thought process. For example, the drug testing method you decide upon may not be the best suited in every situation. That is why it is encouraged to speak to your occupational testing provider for help in aligning your business needs, and policy, with the best method out there for your circumstance.
For more information about these testing methods and their advantages and disadvantages, check out our blog on how to choose the right drug testing method for you.