Urine drug tests-also known as "peeing in a cup"-have become a tradition in professional sports, certain jobs, and some recovery programs.
Giving a Sample
Urine drug tests require a "clean catch" sample of urine. Before giving the sample, men must wash or wipe clean the head of the penis. Women must wash or clean the lips of the vagina, near the opening where the urine comes out. The first few drops of urine should be allowed to fall into the toilet, since the sample should come from the middle of the urine stream. Then, the last of the urine should also fall into the toilet.
Often, the sample can be collected in a regular bathroom. In certain situations, when it's very important to be sure the results are accurate, a nurse or other professional will remain in the room. In some cases, the test can be done in private. However, the person being tested must wear a hospital gown so that nothing can be smuggled in to affect the test.
How the Tests Work
Urine drug tests look either for the drug itself or for a chemical that's made in the body as the drug is broken down. These secondary chemicals are called metabolites. The tests are often done by a technique called "immunoassay," in which special molecules that bind to the drugs or their metabolites are added to the urine. Confirmation of the result, if needed, is done by gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy, which looks for specific molecular characteristics.
The test result won't say how much of the drug was found, just whether or not it was detected. It also won't reveal how long ago the drug was used.
What Drugs Are Detected
There are urine drug tests specific to just one drug. Often, multiple tests are done together in what's called a "drug screen" or "toxicology screen." These can include both illicit and prescription medicines, but when illegal drug use is the issue the test will probably include marijuana, cocaine, opiates (morphine, heroin, and similar drugs), PCP/angel dust (phencyclidine), amphetamines, and sometimes benzodiazepines (such as Valium and Xanax).
Home Urine Drug Tests
Many manufacturers sell home tests. These are available online and may also be at your local drugstore. Tests are available for marijuana, cocaine, opiates or similar drugs, amphetamines, ecstasy, PCP, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines. Others may be available, too. The tests give results within a few minutes. Some companies offer the gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy confirmation test by mail, but there may be an additional fee for this service.
Home tests typically cost $6 to $10 each, depending upon the manufacturer and how many different drugs are detected.
How Long Drugs Are Detectable
Different drugs are detectable in the urine for different amounts of time. It has to do with how they're processed by the body. The following are estimates. Actual timelines depend on the amount of the drug, how often it was used, and each individual's metabolism. They can vary greatly from person to person and even from test to test.
- Cocaine: about 2 days
- Marijuana: a few days for occasional or moderate use, a month or more for heavy use
- PCP/Angel Dust (phencyclidine): a few days to weeks, depending on frequency of use
- Heroin and other opiates: about 4 days
- Amphetamines: about a day for occasional use, 2 to 4 days for chronic high-dose use
- Barbituates: depends on the specific drug; some are cleared faster than others
Beating the Test
Many people who use illicit drugs want to know how to pass a drug test without stopping their drug use. Often, if a sample is tampered with, the lab won't be able to get any result at all. Not only will the test have to be repeated, but it may raise suspicions with an employer or coach. Some people think that claiming to have eaten poppy seeds will keep them from getting in trouble if they test positive for heroin. In fact, poppy seeds do contain a small amount of opiates, and it's possible that if you ate a lot of them, your test could come back positive. However, most tests aren't sensitive enough to pick up the low level, and at that level the drug wouldn't be detectable for very long. If you did have a poppy seed bagel for breakfast and you're worried about a false positive result, just let the doctor or nurse know.