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Five Myths about Alcohol & Drug Testing Debunked

Trying to get to the truth about alcohol and drug testing? In this week’s post, we give the 5 most common myths in the field a reality check.

1. The alcohol testing process is inaccurate because you aren’t impaired until your BAC reaches .08.

Studies have shown that your driving skills can be seriously impaired at BAC levels well below .08. In fact, at .04 BAC, it becomes more difficult to see, process information, and perform multiple tasks. That’s why a consistent practice in Canada has been to set .04 BAC as the level at or above that which would constitute a policy violation, just as it is under U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations.

Due to the safety risks that exist at levels below .04, DOT regulations require covered commercial vehicle drivers be suspended from driving for 24 hours, and some non-regulated company policies require individuals who hold safety-sensitive positions or are assigned to high risk job sites to be removed from duty if their alcohol test result is between .02 and .039 BAC.

2. The drug testing process is not accurate because false positives are common.

The high level technology used to test specimen samples at HHS accredited laboratories (the Gold Standard for North America) has an accuracy rate of over 99%. Urine Point of Care Testing has a slightly lower accuracy rate, but is still very reliable.

The possibility for false positives is further minimized through the rigid collection and chain of custody process, and the MRO review of results. If a specimen donor tests positive, he or she can challenge the laboratory’s findings by requesting a split urine sample from the MRO within 72 hours of being advised of their result. The split sample will be analyzed, or, where applicable, the original specimen will be re-analyzed where a single bottle collection only was done.

3. There are many products that will cover up the drugs.

It is true that there are many products on the market aimed at helping someone ‘beat’ a drug test. However, during the collection process and analysis, measures are taken to detect attempts to tamper with a specimen sample. For example, the collector checks the colour and temperature of the sample, and can request a second sample if there are signs of tampering. The laboratory also conducts validity testing to determine if adulterants or foreign substances were added to the urine or if the specimen was diluted or substituted.

4. Second hand smoke will test positive on a drug test.

The positive GC/MS confirmation test cut off levels used by HHS accredited testing laboratories are levels determined by scientific studies to exclude second hand smoke exposure as the sole reason for a positive test result.  Put another way, when an HHS accredited laboratory reports a test result to be positive, primary use/consumption of a drug or drugs had to have occurred, whether or not second hand exposure has also taken place.

5. Poppy seed bagels will test positive on a drug test and will always cause violations of DOT testing rules or company policy.

Morphine and, in some cases, codeine can be found in poppy seeds, and can sometimes be of sufficient quantity to trigger a positive test result from the laboratory.  Even still, there is an upper limit to the quantitative level(s) of these drug(s) detected beyond which poppy seed consumption alone will not explain the test result(s) obtained.

When an MRO receives a positive test result (including the quantitative level(s) of the drug(s) that tested positive), the MRO contacts the specimen donor to offer the opportunity for the donor to provide a valid explanation for the lab’s findings.  If poppy seed consumption is offered as the sole explanation for a positive morphine and/or codeine result and the quantitative level(s) is/are consistent with poppy seed consumption, the MRO will determine the result to be “negative”, and will report the result of the test to the employer as “negative”.  If the quantitative level(s) is/are not consistent with poppy seed consumption as the sole source of the test results obtained and no other valid medical explanation is provided, the MRO will determine and report the test result as “positive”.