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Drug and alcohol testing

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article image Oral fluid and urine tests serve different purposes.

POINT of Care Diagnostics is a Sydney-based company that has been supplying drug and alcohol screening tests for over a decade. Drug testing in the workplace is controversial, but there is a compelling argument in favour of screening when drug use could impact on other people and business activities.

Substance abuse policies covering drugs, alcohol and impairing substances such as solvents are increasingly common among Australian businesses as pressure from insurers mounts. Aside from the health risks of drug use, even casual users feel awful for days afterwards, affecting work performance and increasing the risk of accidents.

Two types of drug tests are used for screening in Australia, oral fluid and urine. Each does a specific job and is not interchangeable. Rather than choosing one field, Point of Care Diagnostics are experts in both oral fluid and urine testing..

The major difference is in the timing. After a snort of cocaine, the drug enters the bloodstream and affects the brain within seven seconds. Minutes later, it is in oral fluid and in a matter of hours it appears in the urine. A week or two later, it can still be found in hair. A urine test shortly after a cocaine hit would yield a negative, unless use was habitual. Only an oral fluid test could confirm whether a person is currently under the influence. Conversely, oral fluid tested after a couple of days would be negative even though a urine test would be positive. Pre-employment screening using saliva is useless if the person has abstained from drugs prior to the interview, which is when urine testing is ideal.

Because drugs permeate the body, irrespective of whether they are ingested, snorted or swallowed, any oral fluid (not only pure saliva) can be used for drug testing. Once drugs are in the oral fluid, the drug has also reached the blood and the brain, impairing the person. For this reason, many companies are adopting oral rather than urine testing, especially in “for cause” cases. As yet though, there are no legal limits for driving under the influence of drugs. Collection devices are very important because some drugs will bind to unsuitable materials. The best collector is a simple non-binding sponge on a stick.

Addicts and many other people often have a dry mouth when confronted with a test. OralScan's sponge contains a lemon-tasting stimulant to get the saliva flowing easily. Once in the mouth, OralScan's sponge softens and starts to droop when enough saliva has been collected. Thanks to the stimulant, this can take less than a minute.

The collector is pushed down onto the grid near the bottom of the collection vial to squeeze out the oral fluid. The top is closed and the collector put back in its packet and discarded. Three drops are added to the test well and results appear within a couple of minutes. The remaining liquid in the vial can be used to confirm a positive result at a pathology laboratory if required.

Urine is a good medium for drug detection provided the test is not being carried out to detect impairment, which has mostly ceased by the time the drug is in the urine. The donor may however still be in withdrawal or in a depressed condition, so urine tests could be used “for cause” to identify those in withdrawal.

The disadvantages of urine testing are the embarrassment associated with urine collection and a proliferation of products on the internet to 'fool a drug test', although most are ineffective.

Positive test results should be supported by a confirmation test conforming to Australian Standard AS/NZS 4308:2001 using either GC/MS or HPLC/MS. Many of these sensitive analysers measure parts per billion or parts per trillion. They could detect a cup of coffee tipped into a lake.

Always conduct the confirmation test on the same sample because the next urine sample may be different and it is not appropriate to screen with oral fluid then confirm with a urine sample.

Workplace drug testing is chiefly to detect impairment. Oral fluid achieves this, because oral fluid drug levels match blood levels and therefore indicate impairment. Oral fluid testing is quick, accurate and inexpensive and to date is impossible to cheat. The inhalation of second-hand cannabis smoke does not affect Point of Care Diagnostics' oral test, which detects the metabolite of cannabis rather than the drug itself.

Urine testing is now well established with the greatest range of detectable drugs and the biggest database of non-reacting substances. Its detection window of around a week is ideal for screening at pre-employment, mine sites, medical clinics and prisons.

The Point of Care Diagnostics range of drug and alcohol tests, including OralScan oral fluid tests, DipScan/QuickScan urine tests and FCIO breathalysers will be on display at The Safety Show Sydney, Sydeny Showground, Sydney Olympic Park, from 13-15 October.

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