A drug test is a technical analysis of a biological specimen, for example urine, hair, blood, breath, sweat, and/or oral fluid/saliva´to determine the presence or absence of specified parent drugs or their metabolites. Major applications of drug testing include detection of the presence of performance enhancing steroids in sport, employers and parole/probation officers screening for drugs prohibited by law (such as cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin) and police officers testing for the presence and concentration of alcohol (ethanol) in the blood commonly referred to as BAC (blood alcohol content). BAC tests are typically administered via a breathalyzer while urinalysis is used for the vast majority of drug testing in sports and the workplace. Numerous other methods with varying degrees of accuracy, sensitivity (detection threshold/cutoff), and detection periods exist.
Oral fluid or saliva testing results for the most part mimic that of blood. The only exceptions are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and benzodiazepines. Oral fluid will likely detect THC from ingestion up to a maximum period of 6–12 hours. This continues to cause difficulty in oral fluid detection of THC and benzodiazepines.
Urine drug testing is an immunoassay based on the principle of competitive binding. Drugs which may be present in the urine specimen compete against their respective drug conjugate for binding sites on their specific antibody. During testing, a urine specimen migrates upward by capillary action. A drug, if present in the urine specimen below its cut-off concentration, will not saturate the binding sites of its specific antibody. The antibody will then react with the drug-protein conjugate and a visible colored line will show up in the test line region of the specific drug strip.
Employment-related test results are relayed to a medical review office (MRO) where a medical physician reviews the results. If the result of the screen is negative, the MRO informs the employer that the employee has no detectable drug in the urine, typically within 24 hours. However, if the test result of the immunoassay and GC-MS are non-negative and show a concentration level of parent drug or metabolite above the established limit, the MRO contacts the employee to determine if there is any legitimate reason—such as a medical treatment or prescription.
Hair analysis to detect drugs of abuse has been used by court systems in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and other countries worldwide. In the United States, hair testing has been accepted in court cases as forensic evidence following the Frye Rule, the Federal Rules of Evidence, and the Daubert Rule. As such, hair testing results are legally and scientifically recognized as admissible evidence.
Presumptive substance tests attempt to identify a suspicious substance, material or surface where traces of drugs are thought to be, instead of testing individuals through biological methods such as urine or hair testing. The test involves mixing the suspicious material with a chemical in order to trigger a color change to indicate if a drug is present. Most are now available over-the-counter for consumer use, and do not require a lab to read results.
There are five primary color-tests reagents used for general screening purposes. The Marquis reagent turns into a variety of colors when in the presence of different substances. Dille-Koppanyi reagent uses two chemical solutions which turns a violet-blue color in the presence of barbiturates. Duquenois-Levine reagent is a series of chemical solutions that turn to the color of purple when the vegetation of marijuana is added. Van Urk reagent turns blue-purple when in the presence of LSD. Scott Test's chemical solution shows up as a faint blue for cocaine base.
Spray (sweat) drug test kits are non-invasive. It is a simple process to collect the required specimen, no bathroom is needed, no laboratory is required for analysis, and the tests themselves are difficult to manipulate and relatively tamper-resistant. The detection window is long and can detect recent drug use within several hours.