Are Home Drug Tests Accurate?

Regular drug testing is a reality for many Americans. Numerous companies continue to check their employees for drugs such as marijuana, even though it is now legal in most states. Indeed, an estimated 56% of employers in the United States use pre-employment drug tests or perform random drug screenings of employees. Data from Statistic Brain suggest this leads to a total cost of $3.75 billion per annum for companies.

Unfortunately, even if you live in a legal state and enjoy cannabis on your days off, a positive drug test could result in the loss of employment. Apart from government jobs, healthcare, transportation, and manufacturing industries routinely perform drug tests on employees.

Therefore, if you have an upcoming drug screening and are unsure whether you will pass, you might want to consider taking a home drug test first. These kits are available in drug stores and online for just a few dollars and could save you a lot of trouble.

But how accurate are home drug tests? Let’s take a look.

What Are Home Drug Tests?

Home drug tests are commercially available kits you can buy from drug stores such as CVS and Walgreens and online. Kits are available for testing saliva, urine, and hair, although urine tests are by far the most common.

These kits usually include a collection cup, the test itself (a strip, card, or cassette), and instructions for use. Some kits also contain shipping containers for you to send your sample to a lab for further testing if necessary. You only need to send your sample if your home drug test comes up positive. The lab can provide more detailed and accurate results.

Types of Home Drug Test

There are many different types of home drug tests, and you will need to find one that’s appropriate for you. As well as deciding whether to analyze your saliva, urine, or hair, you must ensure that the kit checks for the substances you suspect you may test positive for.

Some of the drugs most commonly tested by at-home kits include:

  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Opioids (including methadone and oxycodone)
  • Methamphetamine
  • Amphetamines
  • Ecstasy
  • PCP
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Barbiturates
  • Tricyclic antidepressants

Read the label properly to make sure the test covers all of the substances you are concerned about. Most of the top-rated brands provide 10-panel or 12-panel options. Such products test and potentially detect the metabolites of almost every common street drug.

Why Use a Home Drug Test?

If you know there’s a drug test coming up, you may want to ensure that your system is clean. Home drug tests are an affordable and convenient way of doing this. If you test negative, you can relax to some extent and abstain from drug use until after your screening. If you test positive, you know that you need to take further steps to detox your system.

Another possible use for home drug tests is for parents who suspect their child is using drugs. Some parents use regular drug testing as a preventative measure. Others may introduce it if their child’s behavior or mood suddenly changes and they think drugs may be involved.

Home drug tests have a variety of uses, whether you are using them for yourself or someone else.

Although drug testing your children may seem like a good idea, there are plenty of downsides, too. Urine tests can easily be cheated, and introducing them could well damage your relationship by breaking trust. Furthermore, there is a lack of substantial evidence that random drug testing works as a preventative measure.

If you decide to head down the drug testing route with your children, you should have an action plan ready if they test positive. Be ready to discuss the issue calmly and seek medical guidance if necessary. Finally, be aware that you should not take any action until a laboratory has confirmed a positive test.

Are Home Drug Tests Accurate?

Although some home drug tests claim to be 99% accurate, numerous factors can influence these tests’ results. The accuracy of home drug tests can be affected by the following:

  • Whether the test is done within the ‘window of accuracy’
  • Whether the test was performed correctly
  • How the test or sample was stored
  • What was eaten/drunk before the test
  • Any other prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medication taken before the test

Due to these factors, a test cannot be considered 100% accurate unless a professional lab has retested the sample. A false positive could occur due to the presence of prescription or OTC medicines. A false negative could be because of an expired test, improper storage, or conducting the test too early or too late.

The ‘window of accuracy’ for a test depends on the drug being tested for. It is also influenced by the person’s usage habits, lifestyle, and metabolism. As a general rule, these are the clearance rates for some commonly abused substances:

DrugEarliest Detection TimeLatest Detection Time
Marijuana1-3 hours1-7 days
Crack/cocaine2-6 hours2-3 days
Heroin/opioids2-6 hours1-3 days
Amphetamine/methamphetamine4-6 hours2-3 days
PCP4-6 hours7-14 days
Ecstasy2-7 hours2-4 days
Benzodiazepines2-7 hours1-4 days
Barbiturates2-4 hours1-3 weeks
Tricyclic antidepressants8-12 hours2-7 days

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Although these figures are used as a general guideline, please note that THC metabolites from marijuana can be detected for up to 90 days in heavy, daily users. The rate at which THC metabolites clear from your system also depends on your lifestyle and percentage of body fat. This is because they are stored in your fat cells and released gradually over time.

How Accurate Are Home Drug Tests Compared to Lab Tests?

Regardless of the claims of many home drug testing brands, their results are less accurate than a lab test. A laboratory screening involves the use of sophisticated equipment, which results in significantly fewer false positives. Typically, nationally certified labs provide the GC/MS (Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry) test, renowned for its accuracy. This form of testing accurately identifies the actual substances within a specimen.

An employer typically requests it after an employee immunoassay (the initial screening) results in a positive reading. Also, labs are staffed by seasoned professionals and regulated by government entities such as SAMHSA.

The main advantage of a home drug test is its speed. You will know results in minutes, compared to the 24-48 hours it takes to learn if you got a positive or negative result from a lab.

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Yet even this pro is potentially a con. Lab tests are not compromised by time or price. They are also conducted in locations with regulated temperatures. In contrast, your home drug test was possibly stored in 105-degree heat in the truck that brought it to your local Walmart!

It is also a fact that a Medical Review Officer (MRO) reviews lab drug tests. Let’s face it, most people who use a home drug test are not medical professionals, even if they can urinate cleanly into a container. Finally, home test results won’t hold up in court due to their level of inaccuracy.

These days, lab tests aren’t significantly more expensive than a home drug kit. Even if a basic lab screening costs $100, it is probably worth it to increase your chances of staying in a job. Certain companies offer 12-panel urine drug tests for approximately $150. These are extremely accurate and far more reliable than any home drug testing kit you find.

What if Your Home Drug Test Is Positive?

If your home drug test is positive, you can send it off for further analysis, though there is a chance the result is compromised before you even mail it. Although these kits can tell you whether a particular substance is in your system, they are qualitative, not quantitative. This means that they cannot show you exactly how much of any given substance is present.

This is important because passing a drug screening (or not) will depend on the detectable cut-off levels for that particular drug. For example, for THC, the cut-off is 50ng/ml.

If your home drug test is positive and you have a screening coming up, you can still do various things to increase your chances of passing. The following tips may help you to pass, although none of them are guaranteed:

  • Stop using illicit substances as soon as you know you have a test coming up
  • Try and postpone the test, if possible, to give you more time to prepare
  • Try a home detox product
  • Drink plenty of extra water to dilute your urine while taking a vitamin B supplement to retain a natural yellow color
  • Do not provide your first urination of the morning as your sample (it will be more concentrated)
  • Take your sample from the middle of your urine stream, not the beginning or end
  • Exercise regularly but stop 24 hours before your test as exercise releases THC metabolites from fat cells
  • Reduce your calorie intake to try and reduce body fat

Passing a saliva, blood, or hair test is a little more complicated. To learn more, read our related article on The Best Ways to Pass Weed Urine and Blood Screens.

If You Pass a Home Drug Test, Will You Pass a Lab Test?

Don’t expect to pass a lab test just because you see a negative result on your home drug test. Likewise, if you fail a home test, it is not certain that you’ll fail a laboratory screening.

Certain brands claim their tests are 99% accurate. A report presented at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting in 2010 suggested that 5-10% of lab tests could reveal false positives. Approximately 10-15% could show false negatives.

We know that lab tests are more accurate than their home equivalent, so a 99% accuracy rate is probably untrue. Realistically, a more truthful claim is that a test has 99% sensitivity insofar as it may detect drugs without outlining the quantity. The amount of a drug it detects may not represent enough to fail a drug test. In contrast, a lab test tells you how close you are to the limit and gives a pass or fail reading.

Remember, various factors could result in a false positive or negative. Common medications such as amitriptyline, sertraline, and tramadol are all linked with false positives, for instance.

Most Accurate Home Drug Test of the Year

Before proceeding, please note these are the home drug tests that have received the best reviews and have a good reputation. Do not assume that ANY of these tests will provide a 99% accurate result, as many brands claim. In any case, here are five of the most accurate home drug tests available as per user comments and general brand reviews:

  1. Easy@home
  2. QuickScreen
  3. Clear Choice
  4. Identify Diagnostics
  5. PreScreen Plus Mini

Easy@home is one of the best-rated and is FDA-approved. You can purchase it and some other highly-regarded tests in Walmart and other well-known retailers. Several brands now sell 12-panel at-home drug tests, which is a level above what was available in the past.

There is a suggestion that FDA-approved tests are as accurate as their lab counterparts, though there’s no clear evidence for this claim. Even so, FDA-approved tests are usually among the best on the market.

Although there’s no question that these tests are more accurate and sensitive than ever before, they still don’t compare to lab testing. Also, even if you use the best at-home drug testing kits, it is still possible to make mistakes that affect the reading. For example, is your urine at the ideal temperature between 96- and 99-degrees Fahrenheit, or even the acceptable temperature of between 90 and 100 degrees?

Incorrect use can ruin the results of even the best home drug testing kits.

Are Home Drug Tests Accurate? Final Thoughts

Home drug tests are reasonably accurate, providing you perform them correctly. Unfortunately, many factors could lead to a false positive or negative by reducing the accuracy of the test. A false negative could be caused by an expired test or incorrect storage of the sample. Likewise, a positive test cannot be confirmed until a professional laboratory has checked it.

If you decide to give home drug testing a try, read the instructions first and try to understand them fully. Do this before taking your sample, as checking it too soon or too late could influence your results. Pay close attention to the window of accuracy for whichever substance you are testing for, as well as how you carry out the test itself.

While home drug tests are a useful tool for predicting whether you are likely to pass a screening or not, they should not be taken as a guarantee. The only way to be 100% sure that you will pass is to remain free from illicit substances for a significant period before test day. Although this may not be much fun in the short term, it has to be worth it if it protects your livelihood.

If you’re in a real panic, you could invest in a lab test as it will give you a better indication of the likely result on test day.

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