Brennen Portalski

Brennen Portalski, C-SAPA
Beacon Occupational
Health and Safety Services


Saliva provides options for easier drug testing


When workplace drug testing was first introduced in the 1980s, urine analysis was the gold standard. Currently, the Department of Transportation, or DOT, recognizes it as the sole testing method for federally regulated agencies. For non-federal drug programs, it is a preferred option, as virtually any drug can be detected in this type of test.

In urine testing, drug detection periods can range from two to four days for most drugs, and up to 30 days and beyond for marijuana. Drug-testing technology has advanced significantly over the years, and with improved laboratory processes, new testing methods have been introduced. Among the newer methods, saliva is becoming a popular test that more employers are using.

Hard to fake spit

One of the greatest benefits saliva testing offers is that it is nearly impossible for an individual to adulterate a drug test. Unlike the urine drug test, where an employee goes into a restroom alone and provides a urine sample that is returned to the collection technician, saliva collection is completed in the presence of the collection technician.

The process is simple — the collection technician provides the employee, or donor, with a swab that the donor places in their mouth until it is saturated, which takes approximately four minutes. Next, the donor is instructed to place the swab into a vial that is sealed in the presence of the donor.

The technician and the donor complete the chain of custody form. A copy is placed with the saliva swab sample in a transport bag which is also sealed in front of the donor. At this point the collection is complete and the specimen is sent to the laboratory for processing. The integrity of the test can be assured because the entire process is completed in the presence of both the donor and the collection technician.

Testing can be done in-house

Another benefit of collecting a saliva sample is that the testing process is less invasive than collecting a urine sample. It also takes away the “yuck factor” of providing and preparing a sample of urine for testing. Additionally, serving as a collector for saliva testing can be completed by almost anyone, with minimal training. Employers can train employees internally to collect saliva samples, using free training modules provided by saliva device manufacturers. In-house training saves the company time and money by removing the requirement of transporting an employee to a clinic to collect the sample. For clients who work remotely or at all hours, saliva testing makes it possible to collect samples on the job site.

Faster results for non-DOT testing programs

Another advantage that saliva testing offers employers is its short window of detection. There are no evidential drug tests that can detect whether an individual is actively under the influence of a drug, but the window of detection is approximately 24 hours with saliva testing.

A number of employers are adding saliva testing to their non-DOT programs to be used in the event of a post-accident or reasonable- suspicion situation. This makes sense because if you are looking to determine whether drug use contributed to an accident or if an employee was recently under the influence, this short window of detection, and ease of collection method, is the best tool to indicate recent impairment. As with the urine test, saliva tests can detect virtually any drug, and test panels can be customized to meet an employer’s needs. Offered solely as a lab-based test, the cost of saliva testing is comparable to urine lab-based drug testing, which makes this a viable option for employers.

Although saliva drug testing can only be utilized for non-DOT drugtesting programs, it is possible the DOT could approve this method in the near future. Having a non-DOT testing program that includes saliva testing would not only help employers maintain an effective drug-free workplace program, but it also puts their testing program ahead of the curve.

To learn more about saliva drug testing, or to add saliva drug testing as an option to your company’s drug testing program, contact Beacon’s Drug & Alcohol Program Administrators at, or 907-222-7612.