Home Drug Testing Onsite Drug Screens and Screen Management

Onsite Drug Screens and Screen Management


This video asserts that drug screens have a 5-10% false positive rate. One reason given is because of the list of drugs that “set them off” being so long. To a certain extent this information is correct but much of the validity of these statements is based on what the cutoff levels are for the screens being used. This is why onsite screens for various substances have their cutoff limits set quite high. Another reason the cutoffs are set high is because most agencies using these would not be using the services of a “Medical Review Officer” (MRO) so there would be no “middle man” taking a look at the results (because the results of onsites are only a color on a strip) to verify the results were within the acceptable range for that particular person based on their medical history and what prescriptions they may be on.

An MRO is a medical professional, often contracted for a minimum of $15 per onsite, who reads the copies of medical paperwork from the defendant being screened, checks the cutoff levels of the onsites being used, and decides if there is a potential for a false-positive in the case. In Drug Free Workplace (DFW setting you commonly find MROs involved in checking the results of GCMS and other lab-based tests as a kind of “insurance policy” for the human resources personnel that what appears to be a positive test result is not, in fact, drug interaction and/or the impact of prescription medications the employee/applicant is authorized to be taking.

Keep in mind that onsite urine screens are just that – screens – and they are not “confirmatory” tests. They may be called “tests” in the media, and your Google-empowered defendants may believe they know all about these “tests” due to watching YouTube videos, but they are only “screens” to determine if a real “test” needs to be completed or not.

One saving grace for this video is the speaker does go into some detail about “Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry” (GC-MS) testing – what we call the “confirmation test” to the locally administered “forensic screen” performed. There is no need to do the “two tests together” as a GC-MS is far superior to an onsite screen and the only real reason for performing the screen is to reduce the number of likely positives by confirming those through GC-MS. Why would agencies use onsites if they also used GCMS? The cost of an onsite, depending on the number of substances being screened for is $3.50 – $5.00. It is very difficult to get a lab-based 5 or more panel GCMS for less than $12.00. To save precious funds, agencies will “screen” with onsites and then, if it appears the screen is positive (a preliminary positive), the screen will be packed up and shipped to a lab who will then send a detailed analysis along with their bill for services. If an agency is doing even hundreds of screens a month, this drug testing management method of mixing screens and lab tests is well worth the savings.

Another reason I advise using onsites in additional to lab tests is immediacy. Let’s say a defendant walks into your office and tests preliminary positive for opiates. The judge you serve may have already made policy the mandatory arrest of that person pending confirmation testing. If not, and you package that onsite up for lab confirmation, you at least can show some due diligence when that defendant who you believe to be under the influence of opiates crashes their vehicle into another and potentially hurts themselves and/or others. It may take the lab test results 3-5 days to get emailed or faxed to your office but it can only take that defendant 3-5 minutes under the influence to cause the death of others. Screen them locally and then check them through a lab.


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Mike is the Executive Director of TAPSTI and also serves as Training Director for the Institute. Mike is ABD on a PhD in Public Safety and has completed a Master's in Criminal Justice, a Master's in Adult Education, and a Master's in Public Safety. His Bachelor's is in Social & Behavioral Sciences. Mike is a POST-certified instructor and has attained dozens of other certifications through his thirty-year career.