What Drug Panel Should I Choose?

So now that I’m drug testing my employees, how do I decide what to test them for?

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What Drug Panel Should I Choose?

drug panel test

Mobile Health drug testing comes with a variety of options. After deciding to launch an employer drug testing program, you need to know which drugs to test for, how to test for them, and why. This guide walks you through the various drug panels, which panel might suit your business needs, and what specific drugs industries typically test for.

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Panel Drug Testing

The industry often refers to specific drug tests as ‘panel drug tests.’ Each specific drug tested equals one panel. For example, a 6-panel drug test examines a specimen for the presence of six different substances.

The most common drug test, a standard 5-panel urine drug test, examines a urine specimen for the presence of:

  • THC (Marijuana)
  • Cocaine
  • Opiates
  • Phencylcidine (PCP)
  • Amphetamines

Going beyond the 5-panel urine drug test

Higher panel tests simply add more drugs, or panels, for testing. While employers can customize drug panels, certain combinations of drugs make up panels more frequently than others. If you increase the number of panels tested from a 5-panel urine drug test, you typically add a new drug for each extra panel. Below you can find what drugs each extra panel adds to the standard five drugs tested.

Six-panel drug test:

A 6-panel drug test usually adds on benzodiazepines. Psychoactive drugs, Benzodiazepines treat panic attacks, generalized anxiety, seizures, & alcohol withdrawal. Common benzodiazepines include Valium & Klonopin. While generally well-tolerated, common side effects of benzodiazepines, particularly if abused, include fatigue, dizziness, and weakness. Thus, if your industry prioritizes alertness, such as working with heavy machinery, testing for benzodiazepine abuse is reasonable.

Seven-panel drug test:

A 7-panel test usually adds on Benzodiazepines & Barbiturates. Sedative-hypnotic drug, barbiturates decrease anxiety and fight insomnia. Known commonly as ‘downers,’ barbiturates affect the brain in a way similar to alcohol or sleeping bills. Frequent abuse of barbiturates occurs in suicide attempts and may cause death or coma – making them a dangerous class of drug. Barbiturates, if abused, can cause extreme drowsiness and confusion. Again, industries highly concerned with safety should test employees for barbiturate abuse.

Eight-panel drug test:

An 8-panel drug test usually adds on Benzodiazepines, Barbiturates, & Quaaludes. Quaalude is a brand name for the drug methaqualone. Used recreationally as a muscle relaxant and aphrodisiac, methaqualone has lost popularity among abusers in North America currently. Thus, in some ways, a company would be better served using a 7-panel urine drug test or going beyond 8 panels.

Nine-panel drug test:

A 9-panel urine test usually adds on Benzodiazepines, Barbiturates, Quaaludes, & Propoxyphene. Propoxyphene, also known as Darvon, is a narcotic pain reliever. Highly addictive, Propoxyphene interacts dangerously with other drugs and alcohol.  Also, it can cause side effects of slowed heartbeat, confusion, fainting, and even seizures. Testing employees for Propoxyphene makes sense for two reasons. First, if an employee suffers from so much pain that they need a narcotic pain killer, that employee may lack the ability to function safely at work. Second, we cannot understate the dangerous side effects and addictive nature of the drug.

Ten-panel drug test:

A 10-panel drug test usually adds on Benzodiazepines, Barbiturates, Quaaludes, Propoxyphene, & Methadone. Methadone can be abused as a pain reliever and can cause extreme exhaustion and numbness.

Eleven-panel drug test:

The lineup of an 11-panel urine drug test differs slightly. It tests everything an 8-panel test does, but usually adds on Methadone, Oxycodone, & Tricyclic Antidepressants. Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCA’s) have lost popularity as prescribed anti-depressants in recent years – primarily due to their many side effects. TCA’s can cause moderate cognitive impairment, anxiety, and exhaustion.

Twelve-panel drug test:

A 12-panel test usually tests everything a 10-panel test does, but adds on Percoset/Oxycodone and Ecstasy/MDMA. The 12-panel test essentially tests for additional opiates and painkillers that lower-numbered panels may not detect. Industries requiring significant responsibility utilize this fairly comprehensive drug test.

For a full list of typical drugs tested in specific number panel tests, visit here.

What Panel Should I Choose?

If you don’t have any needs or legal requirements to test beyond these substances, a 5-panel test is a perfectly reasonable choice to serve as your company’s drug testing policy. In general, the 5-panel test looks for the presence of commonly abused street drugs, while larger panel tests search for abuse of prescription drugs and painkillers as well.

However, choosing the panel test that works best for your company depends on several factors:

  • Your industry
  • The laws applying to your industry for drug testing
  • Corporate culture
Industry-specific drug testing standards:
  • The DOT legally requires a standard 5-panel test for all drivers. The DOT requires drivers to take a pre-employment drug test, a random drug test yearly, and an annual drug test.
  • Mobile Health recommends that home health aides take an 8-panel test.
  • Construction and heavy machinery related industries frequently test 9 or more panels. The need for alertness in these industries is high and a normal side effect of abused prescription drugs is fatigue – a side effect that’s extremely dangerous in high-activity industries.
  • Civil servants are required to pass a 5-panel test. However, some states now require them to pass a 10-panel drug test.
  • Employers who have, or want to establish a strict drug-free workplace policy may choose to require their employees to pass a comprehensive 12-panel test.
Corporate culture:

Companies who primarily employ wealthy, white-collar workers, may want to test their employees for designer drugs or drugs that are meant to improve focus. These drugs have a much greater incidence of abuse in certain fields. For example, while cocaine was the most commonly abused drug among stockbrokers in the 1980’s, and is still abused in this occupation today, in recent times abuse of Ritalin, Adderall, & Provigil has skyrocketed.

Further, some companies may have a culture that doesn’t object to a typically tested drug. With expanding legalization of Marijuana and differing corporate outlooks on the drug, some companies might choose a 4-panel drug test, testing for everything in a typical 5-panel test but excluding the THC panel.

What drugs can be tested?

While the sky is not quite the limit when it comes to options for employer drug testing, a great number of drugs can be tested, including:

Marijuana, Cocaine, PCP, Amphetamine, Ecstasy, Methamphetamine, Opiates, Oxycodone, Methadone, Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines, Buprenorphine, Tricyclic Antidepressants, Propoxyphene, Tramadol, Fentanyl, Sufentanil, Zolpidem, Carisoprodol, Meperidine, Antihistamines, Synthetic Cannabinoids, Designer Stimulants (Bath Salts), Dextromethorphan, Direct Ethanol Biomarkers, High Potency Opioids, Ketamine, Propofol Glucuronide, & Ritalin.

Employer drug testing programs can test for alcohol as well, but due to its rapid clearance from urine and the bloodstream, is usually tested randomly or due to reasonable suspicion. Mobile Health offers Breath Alcohol Tests to detect the presence of alcohol.

How far back can drugs be detected?

This varies by the drug and testing medium. Drug tests can utilize urine, hair, blood, or saliva for testing. The choice of testing medium impacts how far back substances can be detected. In addition, the size, weight, health, level of hydration, and other factors can impact drug detection periods. – check out our Mobile Health blog article on drug detection periods.

How accurate are drug testing results?

Employer drug testing performed through Mobile Health’s services are SAMHSA and DOT certified, reviewed by a Medical Review Officer and collected according to anti-tampering specifications. Mobile Health drug testing is done at any NY Mobile Health clinic or at any of our 3,300+ provider-partners nationwide.

Want more information?

If you have further questions, please contact us.


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