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The Differences Between Instant vs. Lab-Based Drug Tests

PSI Team | Uncategorized

Drug screening is important for multiple positions out there. Operators of heavy equipment, employees at companies funded by the federal government, social workers, law enforcement officials, and others may need to provide proof of sobriety. The laws are different around the country, but generally, many employers have the right to ask an employee or potential job candidate to submit to a drug test. The employee/candidate has the right to refuse, but similarly, the employer can take action against or turn away an individual for that reason.

That said, drug testing is a fact of life in many places, but not all drug tests are the same. For example, there are instant drug tests and lab-based drug tests. So, what are the differences between instant and lab-based drug tests? As it turns out, and as the names may imply, there are more differences than similarities.

What Are Instant Drug Tests?

We all like immediate results, whether for projects or tests. Instant drug testing works rapidly. Also known as point of collection testing (POCT), this kind of testing happens with a kit or other device that should be purchased through a reputable and knowledgeable vendor. Some stores or online services also sale instant drug testing kits, but kits sold through stores most often tests for a particular drug, such as cannabis, opiates, alcohol, cocaine, and amphetamines. Also, kits purchased online through wholesale or at a store would not provide assistance with confirmation testing that is typically required for employment screening purposes.

After taking the test, the kit shortly reveals its results through a chemically treated strip changing color. The result breaks down to being either negative for the presence of the drug or drugs or positive. While indeed an “instant” test, the results aren’t necessarily conclusive. The tester must determine if the strips truly reveal the presence of drugs, as false positives and negatives are possible. Typically, when employers conduct instant tests, they don’t send the strips to a laboratory for analysis. Instant drug tests are not thoroughly accurate forms of testing, and conditions and circumstances can skew or alter the results. Also, if legal proceedings occur in the event of a false positive leading to dismissal, a POCT test’s results may not hold up in court. Many states also require confirmation testing for positives from an instant or POCT test kit when being used for employment purposes. A reputable vendor can assist your company with confirmation testing and compliance.

What Are Lab-Based Drug Tests?

Once again, it’s all in the name. Lab-based drug tests occur when the drug test sample (in the form of urine, a mouth swab, or something else) is sent to a lab for analysis. Typically, collection transpires at a facility or laboratory-owned patient service center. The laboratory follows protocol, carefully controls the chain of custody, and conducts both a first screening, followed by a confirmatory screening to ensure the results repeat themselves. Lab-based drug testing looks for the presence of cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamines, opiates, and other drugs, of course. It also attempts to confirm whether someone has tampered with the specimen. Lab-based testing has access to more rigorous and thorough methods and machinery than the simple strips found in some testing kits. Chemical testing and chromatography can reveal the presence of recreational drugs. Results show up in a matter of days, depending on when the lab can process the request.

The Pros and Cons

Instant Drug Tests

Obviously, the biggest advantage of instant drug tests is that they’re technically instant. The tester sees the result within a few minutes. Cost effectiveness comes into play since the tests are relatively cheap and cost nothing to conduct in real time.

However, there are cons as well. While such tests are reliable in detecting the presence of drugs, they aren’t 100 percent foolproof. They can deliver false positives based on environmental factors, legitimate medications used by the person tested, or suplemental use. Additionally, urine tests have a limited window for reliability since the body can swiftly process drugs. Instant tests can’t detect every possible drug either, or even if they purport to, a lab still needs to confirm the results. Finally, some governmental regulatory organizations don’t permit instant drug testing and require a full battery of tests in a lab environment. State laws may have a say in things as well.

Lab-Based Tests

So, lab-based tests are the way to go, right? Yes and no. As effective as they are, using them has its own set of demands and drawbacks. On the plus side, experts thoroughly conduct lab-based tests with an understanding of proper procedures. These experts have the training and credentials to back up their work and results. False positives and negatives are far less likely, and they’re able to look for a variety of drugs, both legal and illegal. If the law gets involved, lab testing often holds up in court proceedings as proof of drug use (or a lack thereof).

On the other hand, as well as it works, lab testing requires time and expense. It may not always be the best economical choice for business, at least on the basis of testing every single employee and job candidate. It requires all involved to manage the chain of evidence, and the results may not be available for days or even weeks.

The Right Choice?

We’ve explored the differences between instant vs. lab-based drug tests, and it should be clear that each has its pluses and minuses. Circumstances, time, and finances should decide which is the best choice for the employment stage the individual is currently in. An instant test might be best for a pre-employment screening because it can deliver an immediate negative result that allows the process to go forth. Instant tests also work for organizations requiring random drug testing, but again, laws and various regulatory organizations may not allow their use. If a legal issue occurs, particularly an accident on the job, a lab test may be necessary since the courts don’t recognize instant tests under all circumstances. Always keep in mind that as advanced as testing has become, few drug tests are 100 percent accurate, and it’s always worth listening to and looking out for your employees.

If you’re looking for answers about finding the right candidates and ensuring a safe, secure workplace, we’re the professional background screeners you should talk to. Contact us for a consultation today.

The Differences Between Instant vs. Lab-Based Drug Tests