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Instant Drug Testing vs Laboratory Testing: What You Should Know

Business owners often have to make difficult decisions about how and when to perform drug screens with applicants. As drug testing is used more and more for both safety and compliance reasons, a discussion arises as to effectiveness versus cost. We want to share with you some facts about drug testing so that you can make the right choice – either as a business owner, or someone in a position to be tested. 

The two forms of drug testing are instant drug testing and laboratory testing. Both use voluntarily collected samples, which can include urine, blood, saliva, or hair. Instant drug tests usually only collect saliva or urine. 

Instant testing involves collecting a urine or saliva sample on site and testing immediately. This gives an immediate result and is cheaper than most lab testing. However, the chances of false positives are higher than with lab-based testing, and an instant test will not hold up to a legal challenge.

Laboratory based tests, on the other hand, have a lower chance of false positives and can test for a wider array of substances. Lab tests include saliva, urine, blood, and hair follicle tests. Also, a positive from a lab test will hold up in a court challenge if produced from a properly certified lab.

What are instant drug tests and how do they work?

Instant drug test vs lab test


Instant or Rapid drug tests are those which are usually administered onsite. Instant tests involve collecting urine or saliva and can grant results in about 5 minutes. While ideal for testing on construction sites, performing spot checks for drivers and heavy machinery operators, or testing employees who need to work onsite that day, these tests will not hold up in a court of law or with an insurance claim. Tests that can be presented as legal evidence must be 100% accurate, and this demands laboratory testing. However, instant testing can be a great help in maintaining workplace safety. These factors are important to consider in evaluating instant drug testing vs laboratory testing. 

How do laboratory tests work?

For laboratory tests, saliva, urine, blood, or hair samples are sent to an accredited lab for analysis. Also called panel tests, lab tests take between 24 to 72 hours but return much more accurate and concise analysis. Panel numbers like 12 panel or 8 panel refer to the number of substances that can be tested at once. These tests are overseen by medical professionals, who usually also oversee blood collection.


How accurate are home drug tests compared to lab tests?

At home drug test vs lab test

Lab tests are 100% accurate if the lab is adhering to the SAMHSA guidelines, and will stand up in a legal dispute. Instant tests are 99% percent accurate and are an economical option if a lab based drug test is not needed.

On the other hand, individuals may want to test at home for reasons of privacy. For businesses, cost may be an issue, as well as time. For professions in the construction, transport and medical fields, time can be of the essence.

Passing a home drug test vs a lab test

One technique helpful to both individuals and businesses is split testing.  A sample can be split, with one half of the sample immediately tested and the other half immediately sent to a lab for testing. This ensures that the time delay for an instant test is somewhat mitigated, while the compliance aspects of lab testing are adhered to.  

What are the pros and cons? 


Generally, instant tests are not considered 100% authoritative. While for most intents and purposes instant and lab tests are identical, lab tests are the only ones which are considered authoritative for legal purposes. Lab tests are more expensive than instant tests and have a longer turnaround time – an instant test can take as little as 5 minutes, while a lab test can take 24 to 72 hours to complete.


Another factor to consider is the test form. While the easiest to administer, urine tests are also the easiest to manipulate. A professional blood draw is among the hardest to cheat  but often the most difficult to procure. In the middle, you have other options like hair tests and saliva tests

What type of drug testing you will use must be measured against the needs of your business, what your compliance needs are, and the nature of the work your firm does. Drug testing can be a great way to increase employee retention, productivity, and to reduce liability, but these benefits must be measured against cost and turnaround time.


What drug testing means for your business, and how we can help


Countrywide Testing offers a wide range of products and services to help you tackle the issue of drug testing. If you’re an individual who is working with a physician to answer health problems, or if you’re in a business where productivity and worker welfare are essential, Countrywide Testing can help you with the right set of products and expertise that can help you meet your goals. Contact us today!