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What Is a 5 Panel Drug Test?

Many drug tests are performed on a patient's urine.
Heroin and other opiates can be detected with a 5 panel drug test.
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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2014
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The use and abuse of drugs can result in serious problems for employers and society. For this reason, there are many occasions, such as to obtain employment or to fulfill probation conditions, when people are requested to take drug tests. A 5 panel drug test is one that has the ability to determine the presence of multiple drugs at once.

The 5 panel drug test is called this because there are five substances that can be detected from a single sample. These include amphetamines, such as a drug commonly referred to as crystal meth, and cannabinoids such as marijuana. Cocaine and phencyclidine (PHP) can be detected. Additionally, a wide range of opiates, such as heroin and codeine, can be detected.

The testing method usually begins with collection of a sample. The sample is commonly a bodily fluid, such as saliva, blood, or urine. Gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, commonly referred to as GC/MS confirmation, is a common method used to analyze such samples. This method is often conducted in laboratories, meaning the test is sent away and the results are returned at a later time.

In some instances, a 5 panel drug test will claim to be instant. This does not mean the results will be revealed immediately after the sample is introduced. This means that these tests are designed to provide results without being sent to a laboratory. These tests often use an immunochromatographic assay method. Obtaining the results of an instant test generally requires at least several minutes.

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Drug tests usually have levels that must be met or exceeded for detection. This means a person may have one or more of the listed drugs in her system. However, it may be present in such small amounts that the test results show she is drug-free.

In many instances, pre-employment screening and random drug testing conducted in the workplace utilize the 5 panel drug test. Another common instance when such tests are used is when people are injured on the job. If it is proven that a person was under the influence of a controlled substance when she was hurt, her employer, the employer’s insurance company, and unemployment insurers may be relieved of the burden of compensation.

There are more thorough drug tests, such as the 10 panel drug test. However, many employers deem the 5 panel drug test to be sufficient for their needs. One reason is those five types of drugs have been deemed to be the most often abused by health authorities such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in the United States (US). Another reason is more in-depth testing is also usually more costly.

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