Drug and Alcohol Testing

How Long Does Pre-Employment Drug Screening Take?

  • March 4, 2024
  • Jessica McDonald
  • Approx. Read Time: 7 Minutes
Four Factors that Affect Your Drug Testing Result Timeline

Using drug testing during the hiring process gives you the information you need to make a good decision. The timing of drug tests can be a factor when you need to act fast, so understanding how long a pre-employment drug test takes is essential.  

Here's what you need to know about pre-employment screenings for drugs: 

    • Pre-employment drug tests are conducted at clinics local to the potential hire or at a mobile collecting unit that sets up at a specific location. 
    • Testing can be performed for multiple substances at once, including opiates, marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine, and PCP. Additional panels can be added to the standard panel of tests without requiring a separate sample collection. 
    • Drug testing typically takes a few days from the initial sample collection to getting the results. 
    • True negative results may come back more quickly than positive results because non-negative specimens must go through confirmation testing and medical review. 
    • Working with a reputable company that regularly performs pre-employment drug screening helps ensure legal compliance and efficient, reliable test results. 

Pre-employment drug tests help companies maintain a drug-free workplace, and testing is mandatory for some jobs. While drug tests prior to hiring provide useful information for the employer, they might also slow down the onboarding process for new employees.

Because employers often have a tight deadline for the hiring process, it's important to find a company that provides quick, efficient collection and processing of samples. 

How long a pre-employment drug test takes depends on the specific tests used and the types of drugs the test is designed to identify. Fortunately, results are usually available within a few days after the test.



Key Takeaways 

Here are a few things to know about the pre-employment drug testing timeline: 

        • Pre-employment drug testing helps you screen candidates and eliminate possible problem hires. 
        • The type of test used, lab location, and testing protocols all affect how long a pre-employment drug test takes. 
        • Negative drug test results may come back more quickly than positive test results. 
        • The Department of Transportation requires drug testing for employees in certain job positions or performing specific job duties. 
        • A comprehensive pre-employment drug testing system makes the process easier. 


Table of Contents 
  1. What Are Pre-Employment Drug Tests Used For? 
  2. What Influences the Test Result Time Line? 
  3. How Long Does a Pre-Employment Drug Test Take? 
  4. Comprehensive Pre-Employment Drug Testing


What Are Pre-Employment Drug Tests Used For? 

A drug test for employment is used to identify any potential hires who may use or abuse controlled substances, such as illegal drugs or prescription medication.

This information can be used as part of the hiring decision, and passing a drug test is often a condition of employment. It's often easier to screen out candidates before hiring than to rescind a job offer or fire someone you've already hired. 

While many businesses and organizations adopt pre-employment drug testing as a company policy, this type of testing is required by federal or state law in some cases. Most commonly, jobs involving safety and security require a pre-employment drug test. 

Testing for illicit substance use is especially important when hiring for positions involving security or public health and safety. Drug testing for occupational health job candidates may be required to ensure patient safety. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires drug testing for individuals who perform safety-sensitive transportation duties. 

Pre-employment drug tests for railroad workers, commercial drivers, aviation employees, and pipeline workers all fall under the umbrella of DOT-required drug screening.

Because federal laws restrict the performance of specific job duties only to those who have successfully passed a drug test, it's important not to onboard new employees before the screening results come back. 

The most common substances drug testing is used for are amphetamines, cocaine, opiates, marijuana, and phencyclidine (PCP). Testing can also be done for alcohol and other drugs, such as barbiturates, methadone, and benzodiazepines. 


Recommended Reading: Cisive Product Highlight: Drug Screening & Occupational Health 


Drug Tests 1


What Influences the Test Result Timeline? 

There are several factors that can speed up or delay the results of pre-employment drug testing. Here are some things that might affect the overall timeline. 


1. Drug Testing Method 

The most common method of testing potential hires for drugs is a urine test. Drug tests can also be performed on hair, saliva, or blood. Hair testing yields the longest detection window. 

Rapid drug tests performed on-site using a test kit can give an immediate negative result if no drugs are present, but non-negative results must be confirmed by a lab test for accuracy. This extra step is required to reduce the chance of a false positive test result. 


2. The Types of Drugs Tested 

Drug testing tends to work the same and take the same amount of time for the most commonly tested drugs. The standard five-panel drug test looks for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, and PCP all at once.  

Testing for more unusual drugs outside the standard drug panel or tests that also include testing for alcohol may take a bit longer because the lab might need to carry out extra screenings to look for those specific substances. 


Recommended Reading: Understanding DOT’s Pre-Employment Drug Testing Requirements 


3. Location of the Lab Provider 

Tests sent to a lab take time for both transit and assessment, so the location of the lab provider matters.

Sending your samples to a lab outside your city or state may add to the overall time required to get back the results. Some larger labs may process samples more efficiently, though, so the time savings in processing could outweigh any extra time added during transportation of the samples. 

Local clinics that collect the samples for drug testing may have a lab on-site or may send the samples elsewhere for testing. Having access to a network of clinics around the country helps make collection easy. You can also choose to hire a mobile test collection provider that can travel to a specific area for sample collection. 


4. Protocols for Different Test Results 

The initial testing panel screens samples to rule out those with no evidence of any drug, so negative results are acquired quickly. In general, negative results are often available within 24 hours of the lab receiving the sample. 

Positive evidence of any type of drug in the sample initiates the next round of testing, which can determine whether the drug is actually present as well as how much of the drug is present in the sample. Tests can look for the drug itself or for metabolites produced by the body in the presence of specific drugs. 


Screen smarter, hire safer. Get the right talent to drive your success. Speak to an expert.


How Long Does a Pre-Employment Drug Test Take? 

Because so many factors can affect the turnaround time required to process a pre-employment drug test, it can be hard to narrow down how long it might take to get results. 

In general, negative results come back quickly, sometimes within a single day. Positive drug test results take up to several days. 

Cisive drug screening solutions include fast, accurate pre-employment testing as well as drug tests for employees returning to duty, post-accident testing, and regular testing at scheduled or random intervals. 


Beginning the Process 

Setting up pre-employment drug testing with Cisive is a collaborative process. Cisive works with your company to determine your drug testing requirements and can help ensure you meet any applicable rules for testing candidates for specific jobs covered by DOT regulations. 

You can arrange a one-time standalone drug testing package or set up an ongoing relationship to drug test all future candidates in a streamlined way. Choose between rapid screening tests done on the spot or lab-based tests.  

Cisive handles the sample collection, the lab testing, and the issuance of results. The results from lab-based testing, including any non-negative results from rapid tests that are then sent to the lab, typically take around three days. 

For the actual test, job candidates are given the opportunity to create an account online so they can schedule their drug test.

Cisive provides a list of local clinics, matched to the candidate-provided address, where testing can be conducted. Because Cisive has a large network of testing clinics and labs, testing can easily be performed in the job candidate's local area. 


Recommended Reading: Streamline Onboarding with a Fully Integrated Drug Screening Process 


At the testing site, samples are collected from the job candidate and sent to the lab for assessment. Urine tests are the most common option, but you can specify a preference for other testing samples, such as blood, saliva, or hair.

A chain of custody is set up to accurately track the sample from the moment of collection through the sample testing process. This ensures that samples don't get mixed up or altered while in storage or transit. Federal chain of custody guidelines provide a framework for reliable monitoring of samples. 

Once the testing is complete, you and the potential hire both receive the results. A positive result includes both the positive assessment and a note of which type of drug was found in the sample.

If the potential hire refused to take the test or had a diluted specimen, typically caused by excess water intake before testing, this is indicated in the results. Temperature abnormalities in the sample, potentially caused by the use of a fake urine sample, are also noted in the results.  

You can rely on Cisive for ongoing support during and after the initial drug testing phase, and you can update your drug testing protocols over time as job titles and duties change.

An electronic Chain of Custody (eCOC) keeps testing data secure while reducing the need for paper documentation that could be lost or altered during the process. 


Get Comprehensive Pre-Employment Drug Testing With Cisive 

When it comes to efficient, reliable drug testing of potential hires, Cisive handles everything from start to finish so you can concentrate on other aspects of the hiring process. You get peace of mind throughout the process and can trust the accuracy of the results. 

Speak with an expert on substance use screening today to start setting up a customized solution for all your pre-employment drug testing needs. 


Screen smarter, hire safer. Get the right talent to drive your success. Speak to an expert.


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