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Drug Testing in the Workplace

Drug Test Cutoff Levels

If you've been exposed to any illegal substances or even used in small amounts, with today's technology you are still at high risk of failing your drug test.

Drug cutoff levels are the minimum concentrations of drugs or metabolites that must be present in specimens, before labs will report the drug testing results as positive. How much of a drug labs can detect depends on drug detection times, frequency of use, type of specimen, drug testing method, metabolism, and other factors.

Labs that follow the Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), first conduct one or more initial screens followed by confirmatory tests. The approved methods for urine analysis and hair analysis are one or more types of immunoassay (IA) screens, confirmed by gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GC/MS). If you test below the drug cutoff levels on the initial screens, the lab cannot report it as positive or continue with the confirmatory tests. If you test above them on the initial screens, but below them on the confirmatory test, the lab still cannot report it as positive.

Basic testing typically screens for the following, commonly-abused drugs.

  • Amphetamines (speed, meth, crank, ecstasy)
  • Cannabinoids (marijuana, hash)
  • Cocaine (coke, crack)
  • Opiates (heroin, morphine, opium, codeine)
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)

Extended testing might also screen for some or all of the following, but basic testing is the most common.

  • Barbituates (phenobarbital, butabital, secobarbitol)
  • Benzodiazepines (tranquilizers like Valium, Librium, Xanax)
  • Ethanol (ethyl alcohol, booze)
  • Hallucinogens (LSD, mushrooms, mescaline, peyote)
  • Inhalants (paint, glue, hairspray)
  • Anabolic Steroids (synthesized, muscle-building hormones)

The tables below are compiled from public-domain information in the Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs. They are for urine analysis of the commonly-abused types of drugs known as the "SAMHSA Five."



6-acetylmorphine (6-AM) is a heroin metabolite and also called 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM). 6-AM is rapidly metabolized to morphine, so will not likely be detected in most urine specimens. But of course, morphine will likely be detected after recent heroin use. Because codeine is a naturally-occurring alkaloid in the opium poppy juice that is the source of morphine and heroin, it too might be in the urine of heroin users.

Codeine is rapidly metabolized and excreted in urine as codeine, morphine, or both. Morphine is a metabolite of codeine, but not the other way around, so ingestion of morphine will not account for the presence of codeine.

The chemical names for the most-common forms of amphetamines are d-amphetamine and d-methamphetamine.

MDMA, MDA and MDEA are methylene-dioxy derivatives of amphetamine and methamphetamine. They are the so-called "designer drugs" commonly known as Ecstasy, X, XTC, etc.

An analyte is the substance for which the lab is testing (analyzing).