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Drug Testing Facts

What are the terms used in drug testing?

There are many terms used to explain the outcome of a test. To simplify things, you only need to understand three terms.


The term positive can only be used with confirmation testing results using either a GCMS (Gas Chromatography–Mass Spectrometry) or LCMS (Liquid Chromatography– Mass Spectrometry). Under AS4308 you cannot say a result is positive at a screening test, until it has been through a confirmation test either at a laboratory or a specialised on-site test equipment.


Non-negative is the term used at a screening test by either urine or saliva device. If a drug is present, according to these instant devices, the collected samples need to be further tested using either GCMS or LCMS to confirm. At the screening stage, the term positive should not be used, as any preliminary test is presumptive in nature.


Negative is used when nothing is detected in the screen test or the GCMS/LCMS confirmation test.

Can a drug test tell how impaired someone is?

No. Only an alcohol breath analyser can determine the level of impairment of an individual. Both saliva and urine tests can only detect the presence of a drug in a person’s system (quantitative). The saliva test is more likely to detect recent drug use rather than a urine test which can detect drugs up to a longer period.1

Note: Saliva and Urine drug tests only determine the presence of drugs over a certain amount called the  “cut off” e.g THC 50ng/ml, this will only show the presence of THC over 50ng/ml

Saliva and Urine drug tests do not determine the presence of a drug under the amount “cut off” amount nominated . An example would be a breathalyser that only showed a result if the user was over 0.05% BAC

Do masking agents work?

No. Not if the correct test device and procedure is used, there is a belief that masking agents such as fake urine or water-diluted samples can produce a negative result.        

All commercially available masking agents can be detected by a trained collector when performing an Adulteration Test.2

The majority of Urine Drug Test Cups sold have a temperature strip and adulterants strips.

The temperature strip can tell if the sample is body temperature, if not it could be an indicator of interference with the sample such as dilution with water.

Adulterant tests validate the integrity of the sample, they will show if masking agents have been used, the sample is diluted or false agents are added to the sample.

With Saliva drug testing it is advised to have the candidate thoroughly rinse their mouth with water 5 minutes before the test, this cleanses the masking substances from the current saliva and allows fresh unadulterated saliva to generate.

Can synthetic cannabis (Kronic) be detected?

Yes. Synthetic cannabis can be detected through urine testing. Synthetic cannabis which is sold under multiple brand names such as Kronic, K2, Spice, Kaos can contain any number of ingredients, most claiming to be herbal, but the most prevalent analogues are JWH-018 pentanoic acid, JWH-018 propanoic acid, JWH-073 butanoic acid, JWH-210 N-5 carboxypentyl, JWH-398 N pentanoic acid and  MAM2201 N pentanoic acid which can be detected.

Synthetic Cannabis is difficult to detect with Saliva Tests in a field test situation.

While saliva/oral fluid tests for K2 are successful in laboratory conditions down as low as 20ng/ml, naturally produced saliva carries a very small amount of these chemicals and detection may be haphazard at best.

Can I use a Saliva test to detect the presence of a drug then use a Urine test to confirm if the test worked correctly?

No. The saliva and the urine test are two completely different types of drug tests and essentially test different chemical compositions. The cut off levels as per the Australian Standard are designed to detect a drug which has been processed at separate rates and in separate parts of the body i. e. Saliva should test for the parent drug with THC (Δ9-THC) in oral fluid, Urine tests for the metabolite (THC-COOH) in urine.

Can a drug test tell how much of a drug was used or exactly when it was used?

No. Drug tests do not measure the degree of impairment as they are not qualitative, apart from breath testing. Tests are dependent on a number of factors including the strength of the drug, route of administration, metabolism, pattern of drug use and the collection device used.1

How do I know my test is not tampered with?

Due diligence must be followed when collecting a sample from a donor through to that sample being provided to a laboratory for confirmation testing. A chain of custody form must be completed by the appropriate people including; the donor (employee), the collector (on-site tester) and the laboratory analysts, security seals are also placed on the sample and transpot bags to ensure the sample is not tampered with.3

Do I have to test my workplace?

Unless you are directed by a specific work order or a code of practice, as set out within the construction, road and rail transport, aviation and the mining industry, the decision to test is up to you.1

How many people should I test?

The percentage of staff chosen to test is largely determined by the organisation and varies according to the risk assessment of the industry. If your company operates with heavy machinery the percentage of tests maybe greater than a company which solely operates in an office environment. Many companies test all staff on a random testing basis, some test 10% - 20% daily, some test weekly it depends on the company testing policy, operating environment and type of task performed. The company does have a “duty of care” to test.

Can someone refuse to be tested?

An employee has the right to refuse a test however that refusal may have a detrimental impact on their continued employment with that company. It is critical that a company has a comprehensive Alcohol and Drug Policy that is widely known by all staff and linked back to their employment agreement. A good policy will ensure compliance if you chose to test and help avoid any unnecessary conflict.

Do I have to get a tester on-site?

A company has many different options to conduct a test. You can have a specialised on- site tester, have a nominated and fully trained member of staff conduct the test or you can send the staff member to a workplace medical facility to be tested.

How else can I reduce the impact of drugs in my workplace?

Best practice requires the implementation of a meaningful policy in conjunction with effective employee education programs.

Can I target test staff members or does it have to be random?

Your Alcohol and Drug Policy will cover this area in detail; stipulating that you can conduct both random and target testing. Whilst it is recommended that organisation’s conduct random testing across the whole organisation, target testing is appropriate if, for example, an employee returns a negative test (after a confirmation test) or an employee is involved in an accident.

Should I have a zero tolerance policy?

Zero tolerance is a term that is used in a number of different ways and is often not understood by many employees. Some organisations state their employees are not allowed to have any alcohol or drugs in their system otherwise their employment will be terminated. Whereas other organisations understand zero tolerance means administrative action will be taken against every instance where an employee has a negative result from an alcohol or drug test. It is important that your policy clearly states how your organisation uses the term. Factors to consider include:

Allowable levels of alcohol or drugs in your body

For example. 0.0% or 0.05% Blood Alcohol Concentration

What action will be taken if an employee returns a negative result

Disciplinary action will escalate after every instance of a negative result (often a three stepped approach is used in these circumstances);

Termination of employment  is considered however the employee has an opportunity to explain their actions or reasons for special consideration; or

Immediate termination of employment.

The most common position taken by companies is if a three strike policy giving the employee an opportunity to demonstrate they made an error in judgement and are taking steps to prevent any further incidents.


1.Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD). (2013). ANCD Position Paper - Drug Testing. Retrieved from http://www.ancd.org.au/images/PDF/Positionpapers/DrugTesting.pdf

2.North Carolina Judicial College. (2010). Adulteration and dilution checks. Retrieved from  http://www.sog.unc.edu/node/673

3.Medical Council of New South Wales. (2010). Urine Drug Testing – The Board’s Protocol. Retrieved from http://www.mcnsw.org.au/page/old-policies/urine-drug-testing/