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5 Toxicology Screening Methods and How They Can Help Save Lives

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Toxicology screens are useful for determining the approximate amount of and type of illegal or legal drugs that are present in the body. Toxicology screening can discover the presence of one drug or a variety of drugs in one testing session.

Toxicology screening can be useful information to screen employees or athletes for drug abuse or organizational banned drugs.

Monitoring a substance abuse problem can be another reason to perform a toxicology screening. There may be a need to monitor a person during their sobriety program, administering such a test regularly to make sure they're clean.


Doctors will issue a toxicology screening to see if a drug intoxication or overdose has occurred. If doctors see a sign or signs, such as confusion, unconsciousness, chest pain, difficulty breathing, vomiting, seizures, panic attacks, or deliriousness, these may indicate illegal drugs were taken. A toxicology screening can rule out other possible health problems and educate on how best to treat a patient.

Doctors may also administer a toxicology screen when a patient is receiving an organ transplant, a patient may be pregnant and have a history of substance abuse, or in a case where treatment requires pain medicine for a medical condition.

There are several ways a toxicology screen can be conducted. Urine, blood, saliva, hair samples, and stomach contents are samples that can be taken to screen for alcohol, illegal or legal drugs.


According to Healthline, There are two types of urine tests, the immunoassay and the gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS).

The immunoassay urine test is cost-effective and results are known quickly. However, this test doesn't reveal all opioids and sometimes the results show false positives even when there was no drug use. This is why, when a positive does occur, it is followed up with the (GC/MS) urine test.

The GC/MS test is done for confirmation. It is more expensive and takes longer to get results. However, it is more accurate in that it rarely gives false positives.



Blood tests are usually ordered when a person is suspected of being under the influence but needs confirmation. These tests can detect drugs minutes after ingestion and lasting one to three days for most substances.

These tests are usually ordered by workplaces, insurance companies, law enforcement, and emergency rooms.



The most popular saliva drug screening method is the oral swab, in which a sterile swab is placed between the cheek and lower jaw for a couple of minutes to absorb the saliva. Some home kits utilize this method.

Another way to test saliva is to spit in a tube until it is filled to a certain point and send it for testing.

The difference between having a toxicology screening done by saliva rather than urine and blood is that oral swab tests only detect alcohol or drugs used in the past few days, while blood and urine screenings can detect metabolized drugs.


Hair Sample

With hair follicle testing, this screening can detect when and what drugs were taken and can answer questions such as, is the drug use intermittent and occasional, or is it ongoing and long-term?

Hair sample toxicology screenings can convey whether drug use is addictive or recreational.


Stomach Contents

If a patient comes into the emergency room and needs a stomach pump or vomits, a toxicology screening of the contents can be done. This is especially helpful if the patient has recently swallowed a drug.


Toxicology screenings should be looked at as life-saving tools rather than enforcement tools. Whether someone, a child or an adult, ingests a drug, intentionally or not, toxicology screenings can save that life.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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