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How Long Does It Take To Get Drug Test Results?

Waiting for the results of a drug test can take long time, what makes it tiresome for both job applicants and recruiters. Several things can help in determining the amount of time it takes to get them. They include the possibility that an applicant is using medications that can cause a false positive result as well as the type of drug test. Knowing this information will better prepare you for the possible consequences of a drug test.

Table of Contents

how long does it take to get drug test results

What Does a Typical Drug Testing Process Include?

To answer the main question of this article, we must understand the standard drug testing process. Here’s what to expect:

  1. The first step involves the collection of samples at work or in a drug testing facility.
  2. Samples are then sent by FedEx or a laboratory courier to a lab for testing. Transportation usually takes a single business day.
  3. When the samples reach the lab, they are screened only during weekdays. Within 24 hours, results are sent to the Medical Review Officer (MRO).
  4. In case of a negative result during the initial screen, the MRO immediately reports this to the employer.
  5. Samples that test positive for prohibited substances undergo confirmation testing. This testing of the same sample helps in defining the precise drug level before reporting the results to the MRO. To ensure that the results are accurate, the investigation can take up to a week.
  6. If a positive result is confirmed, the Medical Review Officer contacts the donor for questioning. In this case, the completion time depends on the availability of the donor and his or her ability to effectively cooperate with the MRO. At this stage, it is necessary to inform the MRO about all the medications used recently, whether over-the-counter, prescription, or even herbal ones. In case of prescription drugs, the donor will have to provide all the details, including proof of the valid prescription. The Medical Review Officer will then check the validity of the prescription and any signs of abuse of a prescribed drug based on the drug testing result.

Difference between Positive and Negative Test Results

The time it takes to get drug test results always depends on the actual findings themselves. For instance, when the result is negative, there’s no need to conduct further tests. In this case, the result is provided within several days after sample collection. On the other hand, a positive result requires confirmation testing, which is done through gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) technology, which takes additional time, so the result may be provided after a week or more.

How Long Does It Take to Get Urine Test Results?

Employers mostly conduct urine tests when screening for drugs. This method is very quick. Most laboratories provide the results in 1–2 business days. Nonetheless, if the sample requires transportation from the collection site to the laboratory, then the entire process may take 1 more business day. Employers usually get negative urine test results within 3 business days, while positive results take about 4–5 days.

How Long Does It Take to Get Saliva Test Results?

Since saliva tests are considered the fastest drug tests available, they are ideal for post-accident and reasonable suspicion testing. There is no need for a special collection site because a sample can be obtained anywhere. The process takes only 5 minutes to complete. The samples of saliva are delivered to the lab overnight and tested the same day they arrive. While a negative result is provided within 24 hours, a positive outcome goes through confirmation testing and is available in 24–72 hours.

How Long Does It Take to Get Hair Test Results?

This method is noninvasive and helps in detecting drugs for a maximum of 90 days after use. As such, many employers prefer to use it. The major issue of hair drug testing is that it takes more time to get the results compared with other tests. In fact, results usually take about 5–10 business days. Some drug testing companies claim to deliver results within 48 hours, not including shipping, which may take an additional 2 days or even more.

How Long Does It Take to Get Blood Test Results?

Blood testing is rarely used for preemployment drug screening because drugs can be detected in the bloodstream for only 48 hours. Laboratories mostly deliver blood test results within the same time frame as the outcomes of urine screenings. This means that negative results are delivered in 24 hours after getting a sample, but 1-2 business days may be added for a sample delivery. For positive results, this time is extended by 3 or more extra days.

Rapid Drug Tests

For quick turnaround time, employers may require their employees to undergo a rapid test. In this case, results are provided on the same day. Rapid test programs are offered by many drug testing companies. LabCorp, for example, can perform rapid drug tests in many of their labs across the U.S.

The rapid tests carried out by LabCorp that produce a negative result are usually delivered to the clients within 4 hours. The company’s authorized labs also conduct GC-MS confirmation tests on samples with positive results. The results of GC-MS tests are provided within 48–72 hours after receiving the sample in the lab.

Instant Screening

When time is crucial, instant drug tests may also be used. Depending on the type of drug test and its purpose, sample collection procedure as well as interpretation of the result can be done directly on-site in the presence of the donor. Unlike usual tests, instant tests do not require a special collection site, laboratory, and qualified staff. The results can be obtained within 5–10 minutes after getting the sample. Positive results, however, still have to be confirmed by the GC-MS method, which takes several days.

Why Are My Drug Test Results Taking So Long?

Some things can’t be sped up. Although it may appear simple, drug testing is a multistage process where there is a chance of delay at each stage.

For example, there could be a delay when you go for testing at 4:00 p.m. on a Friday. This situation could set back the entire process until Monday since FedEx’s deadline for overnight delivery is usually 3:30 p.m. What’s more, laboratories do not test samples on weekends. They will do this only on Monday.

Another case that could lead to a delay is when a laboratory courier arrives at 11:00 a.m., and the sample is collected at noon. For this reason, the specimen ends up being sent to the lab only the next day when a courier comes again. Mentioned above are just two of many possible reasons why your drug test results are taking so long.

The longest delays usually happen because of confirmation tests. If a positive result is obtained during the initial screening, the laboratory conducts an in-depth GC-MS test, which is usually done the following day. If a positive result is confirmed, it is sent to the Medical Review Officer.

The MRO contacts the donor in question to seek further explanation. The result can be released only after the donor is contacted and the MRO has answers to his/her questions. This entire process can be completed in 3–4 business days.

As for Department of Transportation tests, the Medical Review Officer tries to contact the donor 3 times during 24 hours. In case all of these attempts fail, the officer informs the laboratory and requests the employer to ask the donor to get in touch with him or her. If the donor doesn’t do this within 72 hours, the result is released as positive, but in some cases this time may be extended up to 10 days.

Non-DOT tests usually require the MRO to contact the donor of a positive sample only once. The donor has 24 hours to respond. If he or she fails to respond, the result is released as a “non-contact positive.”

A donor is required to provide a compelling explanation of drug traces in his or her sample when he or she communicates with the MRO. If such an explanation is not given, the positive result is released. If the explanation satisfies the MRO, he or she releases the result in accordance with the explanation.

Keep in mind that when conducting DOT tests both the MRO and the laboratory cannot release any result until the whole procedure is completed.

The entire process can take roughly 2 days or even go beyond a week. It all depends on the donor’s availability and willingness to cooperate. A donor who is under the prescribed medications is provided some time to submit the prescription.

If the prescription is valid, the Medical Review Officer must report the result as negative. However, in case of potential safety concerns, he or she will recommend that the donor change medications to safer ones. In case that is not possible, the result will be released as “negative with a safety concern.”

Although we all want to get the result as soon as possible, we must understand that the drug testing system was designed to protect us from mistakes, and all this time is required to release the most fair result. The delay in releasing the report doesn’t necessarily mean a positive result. You just need to be patient.