Drug screening: The test you can’t cram for

Herald staff

What’s involved in a drug test?

It takes about 10 minutes in a clinic to provide a urine sample for a drug test and can take 24 hours or more to get the results.

At Providence Occupational Health Services, for example, a person giving a sample fills out forms and signs various release documents. Then, the person is required to show picture identification.

Hats, purses, jackets and gloves are locked in a cabinet so nothing can be brought in during sampling, said Pat Robertson, program manager of Providence.

Participants then rinse their hands with water and are given a sterile cup for the sample. No soap during hand rinsing, though, since it can alter the results, Robertson said. Once the sample is given, the temperature of the sample is taken to make sure it’s not too cold or hot, which would indicate tampering, Robertson said.

Then, the samples are put in bottles and sealed for the lab. All that is done in the presence of the person giving the sample, she said.

Most samples are tested at the lab for illegal drugs such as marijuana, opiates (opium, codeine, heroin), amphetamines, cocaine and PCP. The sample is then analyzed, and the sample results are reviewed by a certified medical review officer.

If a test shows up negative for drugs, results can be available as soon as 24 hours after the sample was given. Results can take longer for a test that shows up positive for drugs, Robertson said.

Providence does about 12,000 tests a year. Out of those, about 5 percent come back positive for drugs, she said. Marijuana is the most popular illegal drug that shows up on tests. Amphetamines, which are becoming increasingly popular, come in second on tests, Robertson said.

It’s also true, Robertson said, that eating a large poppy-seed muffin can influence the outcome of a urine drug test. That’s one of the written questions the organization asks before collecting a sample, she said.

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