Lab Based Urine Drug Testing: Still the Gold Standard

By Alana Smart / May 1, 2012 / Blog ,

Lab Based Urine Drug Testing: Still the Gold Standard

Every year, the market is flooded with new drug screening solutions for employers - electronic chain of custodies, instant on-site collections, point of collection analysis, saliva, hair and the list goes on. Out of these solutions, one of the oldest methods still proves to be the most cost-efficient and accurate option for employers - lab based urine drug tests.


Despite the many solutions and products that are currently on the market, lab based urine drug testing is still the standard in employee drug testing. Despite many employers gravitating to an instant solution for cost reasons, urine lab testing is still by far your best option, and here's why.

What Employers Need to Know

Lab based urine testing provides a legal blanket to employers and is FDA approved. Lab based testings goes through two levels of screening: an initial test and a confirmation test (performed at a SAMSHA approved lab). The confirmation test is known as gas chromatography/ mass spectrometry (GC/MS). It is extremely accurate and to date is the only confirmatory method authorized under federal drug testing procedures. It is the gold standard of forensic testing.

Here's the important part for employers - the SAMSHA lab guarantees and stands by its result. In the event of an appeal by an employee, the lab provides an expert witness (if it were to get that far). Although appeals are a rarity, urine lab based testing removes all liability from employers. Employers are legally protected and held harmless.  

In addition, there are standardized rules for collection and specimen transit (known as the chain of custody). During this process, from the time the donor provides a specimen to the moment the lab scientist completes the specimen analysis, there are multiple checks for adulterants and tampering. Because this system has so many protections to guard against interference or manipulation, the validity of the specimen never comes into question - this process guarantees high reliability and validity.

At the end of lab analysis, if a specimen needs to go through confirmation testing, a scientist (toxicologist), certifies results. The lab results are then reviewed by the Medical Review Officer (MRO), a physician who reviews the results for possible medical reasons for a positive test.

That was a mouthful but you can see the many steps along the way that are in place to protect employers from liability. This is intentional! The process is a proven one.

The urine instant drug test, although a very inexpensive method for employee drug testing, is not FDA approved. Why? Because of a lower reliability and validity of results. It's important to understand that you want your tests to not be 99% accurate. You want them to be 100% accurate. 99% accurate is not defendable. It leaves reason for doubt that the test could be inaccurate. This makes dismissal of an employee or the non-hiring of an employee difficult to defend if an appeal is made. The FDA approves lab based urine drug testing for employees because it is defendable. Here is why instant drug testing is not approved:

  • There are a plethora of solutions on the market - in fact there are so many that it is almost impossible to critique a specific one. With that being said each product is different. Therefore the validity is different. Even the best instant products can only guarantee 99% accuracy.
  • The results are not being read by a lab scientist. In most cases, the results are being read by somebody at the point of collection or even a safety manager if it's a post accident taking place onsite.
  • No confirmation test. GC/MS is the gold standard in lab testing. Did you know that lab based urine drug screens are also called forensic drug tests? The word forensic usually reminds people of criminal investigation, dusting for fingerprints and other activities seen on shows like CSI. But in this case the word forensic means "suitable for court" and "application of scientific knowledge to legal problems." The GC/MS is so accurate that it applies to forensics - it's defendable in court!


In general, the instant tests are not as reliable because of the high degree of variance - you cannot ensure that the test is 100% accurate. This is one of the main reasons why instant testing is not FDA approved. 

Taking it one step further, this could lead to the dismissal of an employee who falsely tested positive for drugs, or could lead to the hiring of an employee who is falsely tested negative. This is why employers should elect to perform lab based urine testing. It is reliable and is a method of testing they can confidently stand by. Although it is the more expensive of the two, it is also more accurate. It is a test that could give you the confidence in making correct hiring decisions.

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