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How Much Does It Cost to Drug Test Employees?

Close-up of a doctor’s white-gloved hand holding a test tube filled with a urine sample.

Drug and alcohol testing serves various purposes for several different industries and programs. For rehabilitation programs, a drug test helps tell sponsors and facilitators whether a person is abstaining from drugs. In the workforce, pre-employment drug testing can mean the difference between a safe work environment and a dangerous one.

Of course, drug testing costs money — and different types of tests feature their respective price tag. Employers and program administrators also have to consider how often testing will be performed, the number of panels, and how many tests are needed, among other criteria. 

At the end of the day, however, there’s often a higher price to pay for not conducting drug testing. Screening employees, athletes, scholars, and rehab attendees alike helps organizations ensure safety and reliability among the respective communities. 

Factors That Affect the Cost of Drug Testing

Factors that may affect the cost of drug testing include: 

  • Types of drug tests being used: Different specimens used for drug testing have different costs. While urine testing tends to be one of the most cost-effective options, blood testing is typically regarded as the most accurate. The following costs are based on estimates of existing companies’ drug testing costs as of 2021. 
    • Urine testing: ~$30 to $60 per test;
    • Blood testing: Up to ~$200 per test;
    • Hair testing: Up to ~$200 per test.
  • Number of panels: If you want to test more than one drug, you may order a panel. The panel number corresponds to how many drugs are being tested. A 10-panel test will inevitably be more expensive than a one-panel test. 
    • One-panel urine testing: ~$3 to $5 per test; 
    • One-panel saliva testing: ~$5 to $10 per test;
    • 10-panel urine testing: ~$49 to $80 per test; 
    • 10-panel saliva testing: ~$200 per test.
  • Frequency of testing: While some employment sites may only require pre-employment testing, others may require more frequent testing. Hospitals, schools, law enforcement, or other organizations that work with the public are the most likely to ask for further drug testing. 
  • The number of employees: The number of employees at a company is inevitably going to drive up the cost of drug testing. However, many drug-testing companies mark down the costs of individual drug tests when you make bulk orders. 
  • Incident testing: The more incidents at a company, the more drug testing will be required. Drug testing may, however, bring down the number of incidents. 
  • The services you are using:  Whether you are purchasing quick results tests or comprehensive testing services, it will affect the costs. 
  • If your tests need to be medically reviewed: Tests that need to be sent to a lab will have an additional cost associated with the medical review. Having drug tests medically reviewed is essential to ensuring that your tests are accurate. 

The number of times you have to administer drug tests will raise the overall cost. That’s why it’s important to use high-quality testing methods to be certain you’re getting accurate results.   

Common Times to Drug Test at Work

Below are common times that your company may choose to conduct drug testing: 

  • Pre-employment;
  • Random testing;
  • Reasonable cause;
  • Incident-related testing;
  • Follow-up testing;
  • Return-to-work testing.

Many companies opt to administer pre-employment drug tests to all applicants and administer tests at other times on a case-by-case basis. 

Types of Drug Tests and How They Work 

Below are the six different types of drug tests and how they work: 

  • Urine testing: Urine testing is among the most simple and cost-effective of drug tests. It requires a urine sampling cup, which features testing strips inside it. These testing strips correlate with different types of drugs. Colored particles on the test strips will float up to a red or pink drug line if the test is negative, and past the drug line if it is positive. 
  • Saliva testing: Saliva testing is another simple type of drug testing. It requires a swab of the inner cheek of the mouth. This is one of the main tests for alcohol. 
  • Blood drug testing: Blood drug testing requires the tester to draw blood with a needle. This is the most invasive form of testing, but also tends to be the most accurate. Blood drug tests must be analyzed by trained phlebotomists. 
  • Hair testing: Hair testing is touted as the gold standard for detecting repeated drug use. It involves collecting a sample of the person’s hair, including the follicle, which is then sent to be analyzed by a lab. 
  • Perspiration testing: Testers perform perspiration testing, also known as sweat tests, by placing a patch on a person’s skin. Left on the skin for 14 days, the patch collects perspiration, which can then be used to detect traces of drugs. 
  • Breathalyzer testing: Breathalyzer testing is commonly associated with DUIs. The individual being tested blows into a tube attached to the breathalyzer detection device. The device measures their blood alcohol content.  

What Tests Screen For

Different tests screen for different drugs. Many tests take the form of panels, which provide the ability to test for several drugs at once. Below is a list of some of the most common drugs that organizations screen for:

  • Cannabis (THC);
  • Cocaine;
  • Alcohol; 
  • Amphetamines;
    • Methamphetamines, or meth;
    • Amphetamine sulfate, or speed;
    • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications, such as Ritalin and Adderall.
  • Individual drugs;
    • Phencyclidine (PCP);
    • Methadone;
    • Propoxyphene.
  • Barbiturates;
    • Phenobarbital;
    • Secobarbital.
  • Benzodiazepines;
    • Diazepam (Valium);
    • Alprazolam (Xanax);
    • Lorazepam (Ativan).
  • Steroids;
  • Opioids;
    • Heroin;
    • Codone;
    • Oxycodone;
    • Morphine;
    • Hydrocodone;
    • Fentanyl. 

The latter — fentanyl — is such a highly deadly drug that organizations who do not test for it are taking on a huge risk.

Why Drug Testing Is Important — the Cost of Not Testing Employees 

As of 2016, the total economic cost of substance abuse in the U.S. sits at $1.45 trillion annually in economic loss and societal harm — with economic loss making up $578 billion and societal harm the other $874 billion. This includes the cost of health care, loss of productivity, crime, fires, and research, among other direct and indirect costs. 

With this data in mind, it is clear that substance abuse costs businesses and the economy alike a significant amount of money each year. Drug testing serves as one way for businesses to counteract these costs. By performing pre-employment, random, and reasonable-cause testing, companies can operate without worrying about whether a drug-related accident may occur or productivity may be stunted.  

At the end of the day, drug testing and background checks allow employers to save money by cutting the number of drug-related accidents that could occur.  

Common Industries That Require Drug Testing

Any industry may require drug testing, but may be more likely to than others. Hospitals, schools, law enforcement, and other public-facing organizations tend to have more on the line, and thus hold stricter standards. For example, drug testing at the Department of Transportation is required for “safety-sensitive” employees.

Below is a list of the most common industries that require drug testing:

  • Hospitals and health care;
  • Education and schools;
  • Transportation and logistics;
  • Government;
  • Automotive;
  • Manufacturing
  • Construction;
  • Information technology;
  • Biotech and pharmaceuticals.