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Employer Drug Tests: Know the Facts

Drug Test

Photo Credit: Flickr/Franciss Storr

Employer Drug Tests: Know the Facts

By Carolyn Hauck on September 02, 2015

Are you concerned about drug testing for a current or potential employer? While in the past we might have been assured that drug testing is an employer’s way to make sure that they don’t have an illegal drug abuser on their team (read below to see if this is still the case), with the rise of prescription drug use for therapeutic reasons (including medical marijuana), many people are rightly concerned that they will test positive for marijuana or anti-depressants like Xanax and be dismissed or not hired for a job.

Drug tests are typically done by taking a urine sample and test for certain limits of a type of drug. Those limits vary by drug, according to a scientific measurement called a “cut-off level,” to allow for smaller or trace amounts of a drug’s chemical that is considered ok.

Common Drug Test Panels

The below lists are taken from the U.S. Department of Labor’s website and show the common categories for employer drug tests. This panel can sometimes include alcohol:

Amphetamines, such meth, speed, or ecstasy

THC, such as marijuana or hash

Cocaine, including crack

Opiates like heroin, opium, codeine, and morphine

Phencyclidine, aka PCP or angel dust

Many employers will also add panels that include prescription drugs, those that could be abused or potentially harmful for someone working in a job with safety issues, like an assembly line or piloting an airplane. These panels include:

Barbiturates

Benzodiazepines, such as Valium or Xanax

Methaqualone (Quaaludes)

Methadone – a drug used by people trying to come off a heroin addiction

Propoxyphene (Darvon compounds)

Below is a chart for how long a drug typically stays in your body. These time durations are averages, because everyone metabolizes drugs at varying rates.

Alcohol – 1 oz. for 1.5 hours

Amphetamines – 48 hours

Barbiturates – 2-10 days

Benzodiazepines – 2-3 weeks

Cocaine – 2-10 days

Heroin Metabolite – less than 1 day

Morphine – 2-3 days

LSD – 8 hours

Marijuana – casual use, 3-4 days; chronic use, several weeks

Methamphetamine – 2-3 days

Methadone – 2-3 days

Phencyclidine (PCP) – 1 week

Prescription Drugs and Medical Marijuana

Employers are in fact concerned about the abuse of prescription drugs, but the fact is, if you have prescription for a drug, including medical marijuana in states where medical marijuana is legal, you cannot legally be dismissed or not hired based on having a prescription drug in your test results. This right is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Health Insurance Privacy and Portability Act (HIPPA).

A verified physician on JustAnswer explained it this way to a concerned customer:

“Drug testing is done to identify (and deter) the use of illegal drugs (cocaine, marijuana, PCP etc.) and the abuse/use of drugs without a valid prescription. They are NOT used to identify people who are legally using prescription medications.

An employer would face significant legal issues if they were to deny employment based on a positive drug test when the medication was legally prescribed to the perspective employee.

There are of course exceptions for medications that would be expected to cause safety concerns in some occupations (airline pilot, crane operator, etc.). I can see how this employer could make a claim that you would be a risk to yourself or others by using a particular medication.

Additionally, the industry standard for urine collection does NOT include recording prescriptions. Typically verifications of prescription use are performed by a medical review officer (MRO) - a physician trained in the interpretation of drug test AFTER the drug test IF a medication is identified.

If the employer denied your employment based on a drug test that was positive only for a prescription drug you could consult with an attorney or your state department of labor.”

If you are taking a prescription drug, including medical marijuana, you should make sure to have all your current prescriptions lined up before the drug test. If it is detected, you will need to verify the drug with a prescription. In some cases, if you are concerned about disclosing prescription medications, you might be protected from having to hand over that information. It’s also important to note that drug-testing laws vary by state. If you’re concerned about a pending employer drug test or if your employer administers random drug tests, you can talk with a lawyer on JustAnswer familiar with your state’s laws before you take a drug test.