Drugs of Abuse

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Also known as: Drug Screen; Drug Test; Substance Abuse Testing; Toxicology Screen; Tox Screen; Sports Doping Tests
Formal name: Drugs of Abuse Screen

At a Glance

Why Get Tested?

To detect or exclude the presence of commonly abused and/or illegal drugs. This may be carried out for a number of reasons including screening for pre-employment purposes or to comply with a drug rehabilitation programme.

When to Get Tested?

  • If you apply for a job where drug screens are carried out as a routine. People with drug and alcohol problems have worse records for accidents and absenteeism; for this reason some employers screen job applicants prior to appointment.
  • If you have admitted having a drug problem and are enrolled in a detoxification or drug rehabilitation scheme where testing is part of the programme.
  • If you believe you may have taken a drug accidentally or been given a drug without consent (e.g. drink spiking).
  • If you are admitted to hospital in an emergency and doctors think that your treatment could be improved if drug abuse could be proved or excluded.
  • If you take part in a sport at a professional level.
  • If you apply for an insurance policy – some companies perform limited drug screening on applicants.
  • For legal reasons (e.g. child custody cases).
  • Sample Required?

    A random urine sample is usually collected for detection of drugs of abuse although they can be detected in blood, sweat, saliva, mother's milk and hair samples.

    Test Preparation Needed?

    Some prescription and over-the-counter drugs may give a positive screening result; prior to testing, indicate any medications that you have taken and/or for which you have prescriptions.

    The Test Sample

    What is being tested?

    The presence of various classes of abused drugs can be detected. The analysis usually starts with a screening test where the drug group (e.g. opiates – heroin, morphine, codeine etc) is detected; positive results are then followed up by a more specific test which identifies the individual drug taken (e.g. morphine).

    A drugs of abuse ‘screen’ usually covers the more commonly abused drug groups which are the opiates, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, cannabinoids, amphetamines (including Ecstasy) and cocaine. Drugs used in the treatment of opiate addiction (methadone and buprenorphine) and ‘legal highs’ are also often detected.

    How is the sample collected for testing?

    A random urine sample is usually collected for the detection of drugs of abuse although they can be detected in blood, sweat and saliva and hair samples can be used on rare occasions. If the outcome of the test may have legal implications you may be asked to provide a sample under supervised conditions and certify that it's your sample.

    NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.

    Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.

    Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

    Certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs may give a positive screening result. Prior to testing, you should declare any medications that you have taken recently and/or for which you have prescriptions so that your results can be interpreted correctly.

    The Test

    Common Questions

    Ask a Laboratory Scientist

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    NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used.