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How do I Choose the Best over-The-Counter Drug Test?

By D. Waldman
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An over-the-counter drug test can be used by a variety of consumers, from a concerned parent to an employer. Choosing the right test can be difficult, however, if you're not exactly sure of the methods of detection used for the various types of tests or the substances they can detect for. Once you have familiarized yourself with both the capabilities of the test and identified your specific testing needs, you will be able to choose the best test.

Over-the-counter drug tests can be found in four basic varieties. Each operates by testing one of two bodily fluids—either urine or saliva—or a hair sample for the presence of residual chemicals left behind after drug use. Tests which rely on breath analysis to determine the recent substance use can also be purchased.

Perhaps the most common type of drug test on the market, a urine test relies on trace amounts of drugs that the body is unable to process completely and that get expelled in through the urine. Urine tests are ideal for home use, particularly when a parent wants to know if a child is using illegal substances, as they provide nearly instant results without the need for third-party laboratory analysis. On the downside, the results of a urine test can be skewed fairly easily by manipulating the urine sample itself, making it crucial for the person administering the test to take the proper precautions to avoid sample tampering. If too much notice is given that a urine test will be administered, there are also steps the individual can take to help hasten the removal of the trace elements from the body or simply mask them altogether.

Testing saliva is still a fairly new concept for the over-the-counter drug test market; however, it is proving to be growing quickly in popularity. Saliva tests work best when recent drug use is suspected, primarily due to their limited time-window of detection. They are, on the other hand, much easier to administer than a urine test and also offer the same immediate results. Saliva tests are highly preferred because of the difficulty involved in potentially being able to manipulate the results in order to give a false negative reading. The accuracy of the test, however, is limited by the particular drug being tested for, as well as how recently and in what quantities the drug was used.

A hair test is the most accurate type of over-the-counter drug test, but also the most time-consuming with regards to delivered results. Since the hair sample taken requires professional laboratory analysis to correctly detect potential drug usage, it requires the sample to be sent to an off-site facility for testing. The process itself can take days or even weeks, depending on the location of the facility and the level of testing being requested. A hair test, when compared to other testing methods, does provide potential detection of the widest range of illegal substances while also being able to detect usage dating back a long time, making it ideal when long-term drug use is suspected.

The final type of over-the-counter drug test is designed specifically for detecting recent alcohol consumption. By analyzing the alcohol content in the person's breath, this type of test can detect if alcohol has been recently consumed and, in some cases, the approximate quantity. While many people may not consider alcohol a drug, underage and on-the-job drinking are some situations that might need to be addressed by a test. This particular over-the-counter drug test is obviously limited by the fact that it is only designed to detect alcohol consumption that has taken place over the course of the past few hours.

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Discussion Comments
By Glasis — On Mar 18, 2014

@Slitherine - You're right, it seems like people could find a way to tamper with the results of home tests.

However, this method is probably still less expensive for the employer than paying for lab work for someone they may never even hire.

Employers just have to trust that people will be honest.

By Slitherine — On Mar 17, 2014

Wouldn't a potential employer be more apt to do a test through a third-party testing facility?

Unless the employer is at your home while you take the test and wait for the results, the test could be easily manipulated.

For example, someone who knows that drugs or alcohol may be in his system could have someone else take the test for them.

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