Urine drug testing is considered to be the most widely used method of drug testing. Urine drug testing measures the metabolites (breakdown by-products) of ingested drugs in urine. Virtually every drug or its metabolites is/are excreted in urine and so traces can be found when urine is tested.
As a medical doctor, I have participated in drug testing at sporting events and for companies. Urine drug testing was the preferred method of drug testing at many of the events I have been involved in. There are several reasons for this which include that is inexpensive and easy to carry out. However, this method of drug testing is not without its disadvantages.
Having previously written about the advantages and disadvantages of both oral drug testing and hair drug testing, this is a natural follow up about the advantages and disadvantages of arguably the most dependable form of drug testing.
Sample collection is easy: Compared to taking a blood sample or cutting off hair from the individual to be tested, providing urine is as easy as it gets. The person being tested simply provides his/her urine in a provided container. Sample collection should be supervised.
Inexpensive: Urine testing typically requires the use a test strip or the addition of a lab reagent to the urine sample to be tested. A particular color change indicates the presence or absence of a drug. These strips or reagents are inexpensive. However, an additional confirmatory test may be required in some cases.
Dependable: Urine drug testing is very widespread and so it has become standardized. There are standardized cut offs to prevent the occurrence of false positive results. Test strips are typically standardized.
Wide Range: Urine tests can detect a wide range of drugs and their metabolites. These include amphetamines, cocaine, benzodiazepines, marijuana, opiates, phencyclidine (angel’s dust), barbiturates, methamphetamines, semi-synthetic opioids (oxycodone, methadone), MDMA (ecstasy), alcohol, nicotine, and many more.
Instant results: Urine drug tests provide instant results because the color change in the test strips usually occur almost immediately. Urine tests can be used in situations where speedy testing is required such as in medical emergencies or criminal/legal situations.
Can Identify Regular Users: The presence of the metabolites of a drug in urine shows recent use since the metabolites quickly enter urine as they are excreted. When compared to other drug testing methods that depend on the incorporation of drug into tissue, urine drug tests can differentiate between regular and former users.
Limited Window of Detection: The metabolites of drugs which are tested for in urine are already being cleared from the body. Most metabolites take a few hours to a few days to be cleared from the body via urine. If the urine is not tested within this period, the drugs will not be detected. Other methods like hair drug testing offer a longer window period for drug detection.
Invasive Sample Collection: Some people find having to provide urine samples invasive. Privacy may be provided to allow test subjects provide urine samples but some supervision is required to prevent tampering with the sample. Many people find this uncomfortable. Others find it embarrassing to provide their urine in a container.
Sample May Be Tampered With: As urine testing is popular, so people have come up with ways to cheat during urine drug testing. The provided urine sample may be adulterated with substances that ensure a false negative. Some people drink a lot of water prior to testing so that the urine samples they provide are dilute and therefore, the test strip or reagent may not react with enough of the drug metabolite to give a positive result. Other test subjects simply replace their urine samples with a “clean” sample.
Cannot Measure Amount of Drug Ingested: A positive urine drug test only indicates the presence of a drug or its metabolite. It cannot be used to estimate the amount of drug an individual has taken. In medical situations, urine drug testing may not be of help in determining the degree of treatment that needs to be given.