Positive Drug Testing Result

Last Updated: May 25, 2018

Definition - What does Positive Drug Testing Result mean?

A positive drug test result indicates that the drug for which a specimen was being tested is present (or markers indicating its use are present) in that specimen.

However, the presence of trace amounts of a target drug is not always categorized as a positive drug test result. If the amount of a drug present in a sample does not meet a minimum threshold, the results may not be considered positive. This cut off amount will vary depending on the target drug and the type of drug test performed.

Additionally, drug tests conducted in compliance with federal regulations must undergo a two-step process. If an initial screening test indicates the presence of a targeted drug, then a second confirmation test and medical review is required before a result can be classified as positive.

WorkplaceTesting explains Positive Drug Testing Result

It may seem confusing that a person could have drugs in his or her system, yet still not be considered to have a positive drug test result. But that is because the term itself can have more than one meaning.

If one considers the literal meaning of the word positive, anything more than zero is positive. However, most laboratory tests will incorporate a margin of error into the testing process. To allow for this margin of error, a drug test result usually won't be deemed positive unless a minimum threshold amount of the drug is detected in a sample. Thus, a test specimen that has a small amount of a drug present may still be categorized as negative.

Additionally, the term positive drug test result, when used in context of employment is a term that is defined by law and has a specific meaning with accompanying legal implications. This is particular important to consider when testing is being conducted pursuant to federal drug testing rules.

Testing that is required by federal law, including testing for federal employees and those considered safety-sensitive, is governed by the guidelines written by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). To ensure that employees are not unfairly accused of illegal drug use, these guidelines prohibit a result from being recorded as positive unless several criteria are met.

First, for each drug and testing method, a specific threshold amount is set. Test results below this amount cannot be labeled as positive. Second, any initial positive result must be confirmed using a second test. An initial positive test may not be considered positive if this second testing process does not confirm the presence of the target drug. Finally, an employee has an opportunity to discuss his or her test results with a medical review officer (MRO). During this review, the employee can present any evidence that might explain why the positive result is inaccurate. If the MRO determines that there are mitigating factors or an error in the test results, then the results are not deemed positive for the purpose of the employee's work history or discipline.

Drug tests that are not governed by federal rules may apply different criteria and standards for determining what is considered a positive drug test result. Some organizations may employ a zero tolerance policy, while others may choose to follow federal guidelines. In most cases, a written drug policy should be available to the individual being tested before the test and it should explain the exact criteria that will be applied to his or her test.

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