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What Is Oral Drug Testing?

Oral testing screens saliva to test for the presence of illegal drugs, rather than blood or urine.
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  • Written By: Christine Hudson
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2014
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Oral drug testing uses a person's saliva, instead of urine or blood, to screen for illegal drugs. An advantage to using saliva is that the collection procedure is much easier and more convenient, and it may be much more difficult for a person to alter the results. A disadvantage, however, is that oral drug testing can usually only detect drug use within the last 48 hours.

An oral drug test is usually administered by a technician and screened by a professional. The collector, which generally looks much like a toothbrush with a pad in place of the bristles, is placed between the cheek and gum. After about two minutes, the pad becomes saturated with saliva and can be removed. The reliability of saliva in drug tests has been tested in many facilities, including the University of Utah, an American college in Salt Lake City. Studies have concluded that it is a reliable method for detection of substances like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main chemical in marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines and other common drugs.

As an oral drug test does not normally detect historic drug use in the way a hair drug test might and can only detect use within 48 hours, it is more commonly used when there is suspicion of recent use. In many areas, workplace accidents warrant suspicions of recent use, and oral drug testing might be requested. Employers which exercise random testing might also choose to conduct oral drug testing for its convenience.

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When drug use prior to the last 48 hours needs to be detected, other drug-screening methods would typically be used. A urine drug test can detect drug use within two to 28 days, depending on the drug. Blood, hair and spinal drug tests can go back much further, and some drugs are detectable for a lifetime. Oral drug testing may be performed at a hospital or doctor's office, or it may be sent to an outside company which specializes in saliva testing. Third-party screenings are generally popular, as they prevent the possibility of contamination from non-certified testing.

Most times, prescription drugs found in the system without the proper prescription are also considered illegal and will cause a person to fail an oral drug test. Generally, the only way to pass oral drug testing is by avoiding drugs that are not prescribed. Chewing gum, drinking any substance or eating particular foods will not usually have an effect on the drug content in saliva. The repercussions of failing a drug test depend on the employer and laws in the area.

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