Magazine article Corrections Forum

Field Testing for Drugs and Alcohol

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Field Testing for Drugs and Alcohol

Article excerpt

Instant drug and alcohol tests are ubiquitous in America. They are used for pre-employment screening, on-the-job screening, drug courts, probation and parole. According to Dr. Dwight Smith of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Black Hills, South Dakota, 150 million drug tests were conducted in the U.S in 2009 alone. That is nearly one test for every two people in the country. It is an industry.

Serhat Pala is the CEO of TestCountry, a San Diego-based provider of, among other things, instant testing products. One of the primary benefits of instant tests is the reduction in cost. Rather than testing 100 people, sending all of those tests to the lab, filling out the paperwork and the general labor intensive tasks involved for which an organization such as corrections would have to pay, it is "way, way cheaper" to use these instant testing devices and send in only those that test positive.

The methods for testing have remained somewhat consistent over the years. Blood, urine, hair and saliva have all been used in testing, though Pala notes that blood is not really used in field testing anymore. While it has a reputation of precision, it is expensive. It is also invasive. As he says, "It has all the disadvantages. It's messy. It is difficult to collect, and the detection window is short."

TestCountry has started selling a product that tests sweat. The Multi Function-5 Panel Drug Test Kit can instantly detect drug residue. Tests like this can be used to wipe steering wheels to test for drug residue. The issue, though, could be environmental concerns and the matter of plausible deniability, which could lead to an anticipated drug test. Anticipated drug tests are much easier to cheat. (Another product they offer, the Methamphetamine House Testing Kit, works in the same way and tests if a house has been used as a meth lab.)

Soon fingerprint technology will make its way into the drug testing lexicon. All methods have their pros and cons, and all require consideration. There is the matter of cost. There is the matter of convenience and following a protocol to ensure that samples are not adulterated. The technologies continue to evolve - both to improve and deceive instant field tests.


Urine testing is the predominant method. It is cost effective and the detection window for urine might be longer than blood - up to 30 days, depending on the type of drug, the strength of the drug, how frequent a user the person being tested is and the user's weight. It can also scan across a wide swath of abused substances. It is affordable and reliable.

It is also the easiest to cheat.

Despite the potential for cheating, notes Donald Mac Neil, MS, president of Drug Abuse Recognition Systems (DARSYS), while blood remains the most precise form of testing overall, urine remains the most effective in the sense that is "the most utilitarian, the most reliable and most affordable." It is also a biological and chemical process and has been "well-vetted by the courts and has become established as a testing bedrock for a wide array of forensic tests used in criminal (and civil) proceedings."

The method has become particularly cost effective, says Mac Neil, since the entry of Chinese manufacturers into the instant screening market, which has caused prices to plummet. The devices and currency advantages have pushed prices down to "bargain basement levels." A device he says, particularly a dip style instrument, can be had for less than $3.

There is also the benefit of the tests being quite comprehensive. Some urine tests, such as the Drugconfirm Advanced 12 Panel Drug Test Kit can instantly test not only for seven illicit drugs, but also five commonly-abused prescription drugs. The device can be used at home or in the workplace. Once a sample has been provided, an inexpensive test can be conducted with a 99% accuracy rate.

The Marijuana (THC) Dip-Strip Urine Drug Test can offer results within five minutes with a sensitivity that meets the Department of Health and Human Services Guidelines and, provided that they are ordered in groups of 25 or more, costs less than a dollar. …

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