Ask the experts: Under the influence

Oral-EzeQuestion: Marijuana legislation is impacting the state in which I run my business. I’ve heard that oral fluid is the best drug test specimen type for determining whether an employee is under the influence of drugs – particularly marijuana – while they’re at work. Is this true?

This is a newly emerging and complex issue that is most responsibly addressed by breaking the question down into its three key pieces – marijuana legislation, defining ‘under the influence’, and oral fluid drug testing.

Marijuana Legislation
Marijuana is a schedule I drug. Under federal law, its cultivation, possession, sale and use are illegal. In all 50 states, including the two states that have removed state criminal penalties for recreational use – Colorado and Washington – employers can test their job applicants and employees for marijuana. Since a positive drug test for marijuana is indicative of the donor’s use of an illegal drug under current federal law, these results continue to provide our employer clients with the information they need to make proactive decisions based on state law and their company policies. Employers with employees in “medical” marijuana states should consult an attorney to find out how state laws may affect their ability to take action when there is a positive test for marijuana.

Defining ‘Under the Influence’
While alcohol impairment levels are well-established and recognized, the same cannot be said for drugs of abuse. At this time, there isn’t a consensus for drug concentration levels that indicate impairment as the studies have not been widely conducted. Lacking these studies and an agreed upon drug concentration that indicates impairment, any drug testing that seeks to determine ‘under the influence’ will be a challenge.

Oral Fluid Drug Testing
Compared to other drug test specimen types like urine, and especially hair, oral fluid generally detects drugs sooner after use. If recent use and under the influence were one and the same, our answer to the original question stated above would be ‘yes.’ Of course, since recent use does not always translate to impairment, it’s irresponsible to say that oral fluid should be used to test for impairment from the use of illicit drugs.

We do know, that in addition to detecting recent drug use, oral fluid drug testing is often able to thwart would-be cheaters on account of its observed collection. Additionally, oral fluid, and perhaps especially the Oral-Eze® product, is excellent at detecting marijuana, as is highlighted in data presented in the Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index™.

While oral fluid testing is able to detect recent drug use, recent use and under the influence can be different things. As such, further research needs to be done to establish a standard for what defines impairment before any test – oral fluid, urine, hair, blood, breath, or sweat – should be used to test for it. In the meantime, current legislation does not preclude employers from continuing to drug test and to use those results to remain steadfast in their quests to create and maintain drug-free workplaces.

For more information about drug testing, visit our website.