Home drug testing has become a popular alternative to laboratory testing in recent years for various reasons. Some who use this relatively cheaper method of testing are nervous about the results of a drug test for employment and wish to perform a sort of ‘pre-testing.’ Others are using them as a way to confirm sobriety to doubtful family and friends, concerned that they’ve fallen off the wagon. But just how accurate are these home tests compared to lab tests? A Health Street article written by Jared Rosenthal compares the two.
It is first necessary to understand how the two testing methods work. Home testing kits purchased through convenience stores like Walgreens are essentially very basic screenings.
“Think of it as checking the wind direction by licking your finger and sticking it up in the air. You can pretty much tell which way the wind is blowing, but you sure wouldn’t set sail on the high seas based on that, would you? You’d probably want to rely on an expert using sophisticated instrumentation. Drug testing is pretty much the same thing.” Rosenthal writes.
By comparison, laboratory tests are typically two-fold. The initial stage screens samples for the presence of illicit substances. Those samples that test clean will stop at this point and the results are sent out to whatever party that requested the test. However, if the screening detects any significant amount of drugs in the sample, it moves forward into more advanced testing. The GC/MS test, as used by Health Street, is among the best because it accurately identifies the specific substances in the specimen. The process is outsourced to a third-party national lab and takes several days while examined by a team of scientist with various masteries.
Home tests get no such examination because they collect no data. It comes down to basic chemical reactions in which certain substances will cause different images (usually a plus or minus, much like pregnancy tests) to appear. They are not court admissible because they are not accurate. Rehabilitation centers, job testing facilities, probation offices, and other places that require drug testing will order a GC/MS test in order to determine exactly what substances remain in the system and their levels.
So save your money, home tests are little more than a guessing game.