Are OTC Drug Tests Reliable?

August 15, 2020

3 min read

With any test, you want to know the answer before you sit down to take the test. Who doesn’t want to be prepared for the outcome? Drug testing is no exception.

If drug testing is required by an employer, for example, you may choose to take an over-the-counter (OTC) drug test first to find out for sure if you’re clean. This is especially true for casual marijuana users now that marijuana is legal in many states. An individual who is using legally could face discipline or termination if that drug test comes back positive.

Over-the-counter (OTC) drug tests are easy to find and relatively inexpensive, but are they accurate? What types of tests are available? If you pass a home drug test, does that mean you’ll pass a lab test? 

What Is an OTC Drug Test?

An OTC drug test, or home drug test, is a drug-testing kit that can be purchased at a pharmacy or online. Some tests are capable for testing for a single substance, while others can detect multiple substances.

The kit typically includes a cup to hold your sample and an item used to do the actual testing, like a strip, card, or cassette. The kit may also include a small shipping container to send your sample to a lab for verification and more detailed analysis.

Types of OTC Drug Tests

Urine tests are the most commonly used OTC drug tests and can detect some substances for up to 30 days. Hair tests are often the most accurate drug tests and can reveal drug use for up to 90 days. Saliva tests are typically the cheapest option and can only detect drugs for about 24 hours after use.

Keep in mind that these numbers are estimates. How long a substance stays in your system depends on many factors, including the type of drug, the amount used, the frequency of use, tolerance, and the body mass, fat, and hydration levels of the user. 

OTC tests are available that can detect many of the most commonly abused substances, including:

  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Opioids such as oxycodone, fentanyl, and methadone
  • Methamphetamine
  • Amphetamines
  • PCP
  • Benzodiazepine
  • Barbiturates
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Ecstasy

Why People Use OTC Drug Tests 

Many employers require job applicants to take a drug test as part of their company’s screening process. Depending on the nature of the work being done, ongoing drug testing could be required for workers to ensure the safety of employees and customers or to simply minimize legal risk.

If you’re taking an OTC drug test to find out if you’ll pass an employer’s test, it’s generally a good idea to use the same type of test. For example, your inexpensive saliva home test might come up negative, but if your employer uses a urine test that detects substances for up to a month, you could be in trouble.

Parents who suspect a child or family member is using drugs might use an OTC drug test to get a definitive answer. This tends to happen when parents notice sudden changes in behavior or problems at school. In some cases, home drug testing is used as a deterrent, although there is little evidence that this approach is effective. 

The Accuracy of OTC Drug Tests

To be clear, no test is 100 percent accurate, and OTC tests taken at home are generally less accurate than tests administered by a professional in a lab, hospital, or doctor’s office. That said home drug tests, according to the FDA, are fairly sensitive to the presence of drugs. 

In other words, if drugs are present, a home drug test will usually detect them if the test is administered correctly and the sample is stored correctly. 

However, because some foods and OTC medications will produce the same result as an illegal substance, a positive home drug test should be verified by a lab test. Also, a home drug test can tell you a substance is present but not how much.

Questions About OTC Drug Tests? DetoxLA Can Help

Of course, the best way to ensure a clean drug test is to stop using the substance the test is designed to detect, especially if it’s illegal. To learn more about home drug tests or our co-ed medical detox center in Los Angeles, contact DetoxLA today.

MEET THE AUTHOR

Dane is the Director of Brand Strategy for Never Alone Recovery, where he helps brands in the mental health, addiction, and recovery industries connect with their audiences. Dane’s interests include technology, the film industry, travel, marketing, music, and coffee.

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