The Simple Facts about Drug Screening

We live in a drug screen world. 

Almost all employers have questions about drug screens.  Are they reliable?  Are they easily beaten?  What does a positive drug screen tell you, and not tell you?

Let’s start with Internet lore:

The Clean Out. This is a very old medical idea dating back to Hippocrates.  It is emotionally appealing, the idea you could take something that would magically clean out the bad stuff.  If this existed, we would use it to rid you of nicotine in your lungs or cancer cells in your body.  It is myth.  There is no chemical that cleans you out.

Chemical Additives to Urine. These are strong oxidizers.  Think of dumping chlorine in a pool.   Chemical additives would indeed make urine as clean as pool water.   Fortunately, like chlorine in pool water, these chemicals are easy to detect.

Dilution. This is also much talked about. We all have experience with dilution: urinate after hard work in the summer and urine is dark yellow; urinate after a couple of glasses of iced tea, and it’s mostly water.  So we are discussing dilution by drinking lots of water before the test (not adding tap water to urine).  This is rarely helpful to a donor trying to avoid detection.  Most positives are not borderline positive, they are very positive.  The only time over hydration might help a donor, is if the donor’s specimen is positive by only a couple of nano grams   A dilute specimen can always be recollected.

What information does a urine drug screen deliver? The most common question I am asked is: was the donor impaired?  A urine drug screen identifies drug use, not impairment.  The amount of drug in the urine is not the same as in the brain.  A blood test needs to be performed to identify impairment.  Since recreational drugs are illegal, it is usually useful to know if someone is taking them.

So the bottom line is that the urine drug screen is a useful detection tool for identifying drug use; the results are dependable; and your employees are not crafty drug addicts who are beating the system – their results really were negative for drug use.

– Dr Don Bucklin, National MRO – AKA “Dr B”


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