Oral Fluid Testing

Many companies today have a far more stringent hiring process than companies in the past. Background checks and drug testing are common for most jobs. But one big recent change may streamline drug testing.

For decades, lab-based urine testing was the only acceptable method for conducting workplace drug testing for many companies. However, the US Department of Transportation published guidelines for oral fluid testing as an acceptable alternative earlier this year. This change means that many employers, including DOT-covered employers, can choose between lab-based and oral fluid testing.

What is Oral Fluid Testing

Oral fluid drug testing, also called saliva drug testing, is a method used to detect the presence of specific substances in the test subject’s saliva. Like a blood test, oral fluid testing detects substances metabolized or produced by the body.

Oral fluid drug testing can be conducted on-site to provide almost immediate results. Alternatively, a sample may be sent to a lab for analysis. This option is less invasive than urine testing. Since samples can be collected under observation, it is much more difficult for someone to tamper with or dilute the specimen, which is a common problem with urinalysis.

Lab-based oral fluid testing is often used to confirm the presence of drug use once an on-site test has had a non-negative result. This process ensures that any employer using oral fluid testing as a method of drug testing can be confident in the results.

Benefits of Oral Fluid Testing

There are many benefits to the widespread adoption of oral fluid testing for employers. These benefits include:

  • Faster Results: Oral fluid testing can produce negative results within minutes. This benefit means clearing job candidates quickly without waiting on lab results. For employers, this can significantly reduce the time window between a conditional hire and a start date – and with a tight job market, this time can quickly translate into increased productivity. Additionally, employers conducting periodic post-hire drug screenings can benefit from this feature. Since the testing is often done at or near the workplace, you can reduce the time your employees need to be away from work for these tests. They can be present for just a few minutes and then return to work.
  • Less Expensive: Oral fluid tests cost only about a third of the price of a lab-based urine test. And in a tense economic climate, every dollar saved matters. Reducing unnecessary expenses by shifting to oral fluid testing is an easy way to save money without sacrificing accuracy.
  • Reduced Potential for Tampering: One of the biggest challenges with lab-based urinalysis is the ability to tamper with the results. Candidates can take urine adulterants, drink excess water, dilute the sample, or even use someone else’s urine. Oral fluid testing is nearly impossible to alter. It isn’t affected by adulterants or excess water consumption, and since the test is observable without being invasive, it’s impossible to swap specimens. This benefit means that you can get highly accurate results from all candidates.
  • Accuracy: Oral fluid testing is just as accurate – or more accurate – than urine tests. Both testing methods report results that are close to 99% accurate, but because oral fluid tests are less likely to be tampered with, this testing method may have an edge over urine drug testing. Additionally, oral fluid testing can detect very recent use of drugs, such as marijuana, within minutes of ingestion.
  • Less Invasive: Lab-based urine testing is often conducted with a same-sex observer nearby to monitor for signs or tampering with the sample collected. It is an invasive process for both the observer and the testee. Oral fluid testing is completed using a sample collected inside the mouth, which requires no privacy. It is a non-invasive way to get the desired results without making anyone uncomfortable.
  • Ease of Use: Oral fluid testing has been popular with some employers for years, mostly because it is an easy test to administer. In fact, oral fluid testing is a great option for scenarios when urine collection isn’t possible or practical, such as remote locations or during weekends when laboratories are closed. No matter the circumstances, oral fluid testing provides another reliable way to complete the testing.
  • DOT/HHS Endorsement: While some private employers have been using oral fluid testing for years, most governmental employers have stuck with lab-based urine testing until recently. In 2019, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provided guidelines for oral fluid testing that allowed federal agencies to use this method as an alternative to urine testing. In early 2022, the Department of Transportation issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that allowed the highly regulated transportation industry to use oral fluid testing. Taken together, these two agencies’ decisions provide legitimacy to the use of oral fluid testing as an acceptable method of drug testing.

With the recent acceptance of oral fluid testing from the Department of Transportation and the upcoming restrictions some states plan to limit marijuana testing that relies on urinalysis, this testing method will likely become far more common in the next few years. And with the many benefits it can provide to employers, it should be no surprise when this type of drug testing becomes the default method to test potential job candidates.

USAFact Global Screening Services provides comprehensive background and criminal checks for employers that comply with federal and local laws. By helping you eliminate high-risk applicants through tailored solutions, USAFact enables you to create a safe and productive work environment and a foundation for future success.