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Drug Testing: What Actually Works to Get Clean?

Nearly half of the workforce in the United States reports that employers use drug testing to deter drug use by their employees. Drug testing in the workplace can help to keep employees from using illicit drugs that can impair their work performance, abilities, and health.

Drug testing in the workplace can be a condition of employment, such as pre-employment testing, or tests done at random intervals, periodically at prearranged times, after an accident (post-accident testing), or due to reasonable suspicion.

It also could be a condition of returning to work after an absence or required after a positive initial drug test, upon completion of a required treatment program; this is called a return-to-duty drug test. Some companies may do drug testing at other times for various reasons.

Understanding how someone may try to ‘beat’ drug tests can help families, employers and others accurately monitor drug usage.

According to information published by Quest Diagnostics, more than 4 percent of the American workforce tested positive for drugs in 2017. Drug tests are designed to determine if a person has used drugs within a specific period, and they do not check for actual impairment. Some drugs can stay in the body for a long time after the intoxication has worn off, and certain types of tests can come back positive days, weeks, or even months after a person has used drugs.

There are many methods people use to try to beat drug tests and get a clean result. The methods employed will depend on the type of drug being tested for and the type of test used.

 

Common Methods for Beating a Drug Test

There are numerous products on the market that claim to help with detox or producing clean drug tests. There are special shampoos, products reported to help flush the system, products that may be used to cheat drug tests, and supplements that are said to change a person’s chemical balance and therefore trick a drug test. Most of these products are expensive and not guaranteed to be effective.

Many drug tests involve the “pee test” where urine is tested for the presence of specific illicit substances. One of the most commonly talked about methods for helping to produce a clean urine drug test is to try and dilute the drug’s concentration in the urine. This “washing out” of the system can be done by increasing fluid intake to urinate more often. There are claims that ingesting vinegar, goldenseal, vitamin C, or niacin can help with this; however, water is generally considered to be good enough.

Taking diuretics can increase the amount of fluids that are expelled, and things like coffee, supplements for relieving water retention, and cranberry juice are all weak over-the-counter diuretics. Elevating fluid intake and increasing urination can make urine less natural in color — more clear than yellow — but taking large doses of vitamin B2 can help to normalize the color, making it less obvious that the urine is diluted.

Another method to try and detox the body involves activated charcoal. People sometimes use activated charcoal for several days or weeks to try and lower metabolite levels if they have been using drugs for a long time. Again, this is not proven to work scientifically every time or to lower levels enough to pass a drug test. There are also many urine “cleanser” powders and herbal teas that claim to work — again, without any medical proof.

Other methods commonly used to try to best a pee drug test include adding things to the urine or tampering with it in some way. This can mean switching out urine with clean urine; however, many drug tests these days are heat activated and will recognize cold urine as a method of tricking the system. People have been known to tape urine samples to their legs when entering a drug test to use someone else’s clean pee.

Others may use a purchased product that claims to be the answer to a clean drug test. These products are often easily detected and instantly make a person look guilty if found out. Additives like salt, detergent, bleach, the cleaning chemical glutaraldehyde, commercial products sold for this purpose, or Visine may be added to urine to alter its chemical makeup to try and fool a drug test.

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The active mind-altering component in marijuana is THC, which is stored in the body’s fat cells, meaning that it takes longer than many other drugs to fully clear the system. For a person who uses marijuana regularly, and who has for a long time, THC can be detected for up to a month or two after using the drug. There are some reports that taking the food emulsifier lecithin can help to break down fat reserves and, thus, help to purge THC from the body faster. Reports of this method working are purely anecdotal.

Hair drug tests may be stumped by using certain shampoos, such as Neutrogena, Head and Shoulders (Fine/Oily), and Rave. These shampoos may influence drug tests by helping to lower drug concentrations in hair.

These methods are not 100 percent reliable. They can also be detected themselves by many tests or even sometimes by smell alone. The only perfect method for producing a clean drug test every time is not to use drugs.

Types of Drug Testing

To better understand workplace drug testing, it can be helpful to know what types of tests are used, how they are administered, what types of drugs they screen for, how long they can detect drugs in the body, and how drug tests work.

A drug test analyzes a biological sample, checking for the presence of certain substances or their metabolites through a scientific and chemical process. Federally regulated drug testing involves using a urine sample, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) mandate the guidelines for federal workplace drug testing programs.

Under SAMHSA's guidelines, federal drug tests check for the following five illicit drugs:

  • Opioids (heroin and illegal use of prescription painkillers)
  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana and THC
  • Amphetamines (methamphetamine, ecstasy, and illicit use of prescription amphetamines)
  • PCP (phencyclidine)

Other drugs can be added to these drug tests when administered through a private employer. For example, a typical 8-panel test will add in methaqualone, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines while the 10-panel test also includes methadone, propoxyphene.

Some drug tests can also check for the presence of hallucinogens (LSD, mushrooms, peyote, and mescaline), anabolic steroids, MDMA, and inhalants (glue, paint, or nitrates).

Factors such as how often, how much, and how long drugs have been taken can affect a drug test and how long a drug will be able to be detected. For instance, chronic and long-term use of a drug in large amounts will mean it can take longer to fully process out of the body than a person who took a small amount one time, and drug tests can be, therefore, affected. Using cocaine at a party one time on a Friday night will not generally show up in a drug test administered on Monday morning, for instance. Regular use of the dangerous stimulant can cause a tolerance to the drug to build, however, which can mean a person will then take more of the drug more often to keep feeling the way they want to.

Increased drug use, drug tolerance, and drug dependence can affect metabolism and how quickly a drug is processed out of the body. This then affects how long the drug stays in the system and how long it can be detected by a drug test. Personal biology and metabolism can play a role as well.

Below, we’ve outlined an average amount of time that specific drugs are detectable in the body through a standard drug test.

Standard Drug Test

  • Marijuana: 2 to 4 days for infrequent use
  • Marijuana: 1 to 3 weeks for regular use
  • Marijuana: 1 to 2 months for daily use
  • Heroin: Less than 1 day
  • Morphine metabolites: 2 to 3 days
  • Cocaine: 2 to 10 days
  • Amphetamines: 2 days
  • Methamphetamine: 2 to 3 days
  • Benzodiazepines: 2 to 3 weeks
  • Barbiturates: 2 to 10 days
  • LSD: 8 hours
  • PCP: 1 week
  • Methadone: 2 to 3 days
  • Alcohol: 1 ounce for 1.5 half hours

Common drug test methods, per the Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA), include urine, breath, hair, sweat, and oral fluid tests. Urine tests can typically detect many drugs for a few days after using them, and they are the most common method of testing. Breath tests are typically reserved for alcohol and usually only detect it while a person is directly under the influence.

Oral fluid tests include testing saliva for the presence of drugs and are less easy to cheat than urine tests, but drugs are not detectable for as long. Saliva tests are not very common, but they may gain popularity as a method to determine current impairment.

Blood tests also can detect current levels of alcohol or drugs in the body. Again, they don’t detect drugs for as long as urine tests since drugs clear the bloodstream faster than they are metabolized through urine.

Sweat tests involve placing a patch on the skin to detect drug use. This method is typically more frequently used to check for abstinence compliance than in the workplace though.

A hair test can detect drugs for the longest amount of time. It can detect certain drugs for up to 90 days, making it a good indicator of drug use behaviors, and it is harder to beat this test.

Commonly Used Methods to Produce a Clean Drug Test

The legality of marijuana in many states has many employers calling foul on drug tests that check for this popular substance. Even though it may be legal at the state level for either medicinal or recreational use, marijuana can still legally be included on drug tests. Since it is considered a mind-altering substance, employers still have a right to test for it in their employees.

It is important for a company, probation officer or family member to be aware of the methods that are used to skirt the primary purpose of a drug test – ensuring that someone is fully abstinent from illicit substances.

 

  • Full abstinence from drugs.
  • The duration of use matters.
  • Eating healthy meals and exercising.
  • The time of testing has an impact
  • Drinking large quantities of water.

The only tried-and-true method for an individual to produce a clean drug test is to maintain complete abstinence from illicit drugs. While it is preferable not to do drugs at all, if someone does use them, they should allow as much time as needed for the drugs to pass out of the system. This varies according to the type of drug used and the method of drug testing employed.

What to Know About Testing Family Members

Scenario 1 – Drug testing a loved one to confirm whether someone is using

Sometimes drug tests are used to confirm your suspicions of substance use. Compulsive use of addictive substances can be a clear sign that a person is in active addiction. Behavior is a key indicator of whether substance abuse is an issue.

If you know a loved one uses substances but aren’t sure if the use has developed into a problem with drugs and/or alcohol, look for these red flags. If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then it’s possible that a person is dealing with a substance use disorder (SUD). Questions to ask yourself include:

  • Does the person continue to use despite the negative effects on their daily routines, health, work, and personal/professional relationships?
  • Are there intense, frequent drug or alcohol cravings?
  • Are there changes in spending habits to support buying addictive substance, even to the point of not being able to afford it?
  • Is the substance used longer or more frequently than intended?
  • Is there an inability to stop using the substance despite wanting to?
  • Has a high tolerance to the substance developed with regular, prolonged use of the substance? Is more of the substance needed to achieve a high?
  • Are more attempts being made to obtain the substance? Have these attempts become illegal or reckless?
  • Do withdrawal symptoms emerge when substance use suddenly stops or is reduced?

Other signs that substance abuse or addiction could be present include:

APPEARANCE CHANGES

Weight loss, weight gain, puncture marks, skin infections; red or bloodshot eyes; poor grooming

BEHAVIORAL CHANGES

Mood swings, which are noticeable abnormal changes in a person’s emotional state, are common. A lack of energy that results in sleeping more than usual or a sudden burst of energy that seems to last longer than usual could be signs of substance abuse.

RELATIONSHIP CHANGES

Substance abusers may become more isolated and withdrawn as they use. They may also change the circle of people they hang out with and spend less time with close relatives and friends.

There also are signs of addiction that are more specific to the drug(s) of choice. If you see any of these signs, you may want to consider an intervention, which can include testing for substance use. If you can convince the person of concern to submit to a drug test and the results come back positive, this is the time to start talking about future treatment. Consider talking with the person about entering a professional treatment center so they can get help with their substance abuse problem.

Scenario 2 – Drug testing a loved one to see if they’ve returned to using

People who are early in their recovery also may be asked or expected to take a drug test to prove to their family or recovery program adviser that they have not returned to abusing substances. If it turns out that they have, it’s important to first note that relapse is a normal, almost expected, part of addiction recovery. It is not a moral failing or an indication that addiction treatment is not effective, though it often is treated like this.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) cites data that say 40 to 60 percent of people who are recovering from addiction will relapse. The rates are on par with those of other chronic illnesses, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, etc.

Relapse is not a sign that treatment has failed.

“For a person recovering from addiction, lapsing back to drug use indicates that treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted or that another treatment should be tried,” NIDA writes.

It helps to have a plan of action in place in the case that a person in recovery is back to using. This is a time to be decisive about what should happen next, but it’s also a time to be supportive and understanding of where the person is at this point in their recovery. Intervention, done right, can save your loved one’s life.

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