Also Known As
Drug Screen
Drug Test
Substance Abuse Testing
Toxicology Screen
Tox Screen
Sports Doping Tests
Formal Name
Drugs of Abuse Screen
This article was last reviewed on
This article waslast modified on 29 October 2017.
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.

    On average it takes 7 working days for the blood test results to come back from the hospital, depending on the exact tests requested. Some specialist test results may take longer, if samples have to be sent to a reference (specialist) laboratory. The X-ray & scan results may take longer. If you are registered to use the online services of your local practice, you will be able to access your results online.

    If the doctor wants to see you about the result(s), you will be offered an appointment. If you are concerned about your test results, you will need to arrange an appointment with your doctor so that all relevant information including age, ethnicity, health history, signs and symptoms, laboratory and other procedures (radiology, endoscopy, etc.), can be considered.

    Lab Tests Online-UK is an educational website designed to provide patients and carers with information on laboratory tests used in medical care. We are not a laboratory and are unable to comment on an individual's health and treatment.

    Reference ranges are dependent on many factors, including patient age, gender, sample population, and test method, and numeric test results can have different meanings in different laboratories.

    For these reasons, you will not find reference ranges for the majority of tests described on this web site. The lab report containing your test results should include the relevant reference range for your test(s). Please consult your doctor or the laboratory that performed the test(s) to obtain the reference range if you do not have the lab report.

    For more information on reference ranges, please read Reference Ranges and What They Mean.

    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.

    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.

    Accordion Title
    Common Questions
    • How is it used?

      Analysis of urine specimens for drugs of abuse only gives information about current or recent drug use. A urine specimen taken more than 2-3 days after a period of “drug abuse” is likely to be negative on screening for most substances. Cannabis is the notable exception to this, and can remain at detectable concentrations in urine for up to 2 weeks or even longer after prolonged exposure.

      The approximate periods of time during which some drugs of abuse can be detected in urine are listed below. There is a lot of variation from one person to another and detection will depend on the dose taken, the frequency and way the drug was taken, the concentration of the urine (influenced by how much fluid has been drunk) and the speed at which the drug is broken down and removed from the body, so these periods are only a guide.

      Drug LengTH of time it can be detected in urine after ingestion
      Alcohol Up to 1 day
      Amphetamines & Ecstasy 1-3 days
      Barbiturates 1-3 days
      Benzodiazepines 1-3 days
      Cannabis (THC) Up to 2 weeks
      Cocaine 1-3 days
      Codeine 1-2 days
      Dihydrocodeine 1-2 days
      Heroin (morphine) Up to 1 day
      Methadone 1-3 days

      Drugs of abuse can also be detected in other body fluids such as saliva but with saliva the period of detection is much shorter than in urine.

    • When is it requested?

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

    • What does the test result mean?

      A result reported as 'positive' in a screening test suggests that the concentration of drug present is greater than a specified cut-off concentration for that particular drug. Most UK laboratories use the same concentration to define a positive result and conform to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) guidelines.

      The sensitivity of drug detection will be reduced in urine specimens which are very dilute. At concentrations below the cut-off limit, the drug will normally be reported as not detected. Excessively dilute urine specimens may be rejected as not valid.

    • Is there anything else I should know?

      Certain foods and prescribed drugs can interfere and give false positive results with the initial screen for certain drug groups (e.g. taking codeine or eating poppy seed bread can give a positive opiate result) and for this reason positive results are usually confirmed by a second, more accurate laboratory method before they are reported.

    • I’ve tested positive for opiates but took painkillers containing codeine?

      Codeine is an opiate drug and will therefore give a positive opiate test; it is however common in prescribed painkillers. Most UK hospital drug screens have a second confirmatory step that will allow codeine to be identified and reported.

    • I think I had my drink spiked on a night out, how easy is it to tell?

      The majority of drugs used in Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault cases (so called ‘date rape’ or ‘drink spiking’), such as ketamine, GHB (gammahydroxybutyrate) and rohypnol (flunitrazepam),act very quickly and pass out of the body within 24 hours. This rapid clearance from the body makes it important that medical advice is sought as quickly as possible and that a urine specimen is collected as soon as possible, and certainly within 24 hours.

    • Can I buy home tests to detect drugs of abuse?

      Yes, home or Point of Care tests are available usually by mail order. These tests usually only detect the drug groups (e.g. opiates) rather than the individual drugs such (e.g. morphine). They do not have the second confirmatory step which is required to eliminate false positive results and the quality of the measurement is generally inferior to that provided by an NHS laboratory. Home testing alone is not suitable where legal action might be considered.