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Urine vs Saliva (oral fluid) Drug Testing

Back and forth the arguments go, some for Urine testing as the drug test of choice, some for oral fluid testing as the most ‘effective’ method of testing.

The main contention between proponents of Urine v Oral Fluid testing, is the detection window of drug use that is offered, with Urine being longer than that of oral fluid testing.

Urine is able to detect a broad history of drug use. It is the detection times that mean that this is the case. Urine tests can pick up drug use days, even up to a month, depending on use. For example below; Several common types of drugs and their detection periods in urine testing:

Amphetamines (except methamphetamine)
1 to 5 days
3 to 5 days
MDMA (Ecstasy)
24 hours
2 to 7 days, up to >30 days after heavy use and/or in users with high body fat
2 to 5 days with exceptions for certain kidney disorders
2 to 3 days
2 to 4 days
3 to 4 days
3 days

Oral Fluid (saliva) on the other hand, has a more narrow window of detection, and can pick up impairment (use of a drug within the preceding hours) in the person tested.

It is for these reasons that the main sources of contention arise between proponents of each. The other reasons for friction to one method or another are more subtle.

Lack of Privacy is a commonly cited point of friction, and feeling ‘undignified’ are another argument for Saliva over Urine testing.

Urine testing can be viewed as more ‘intrusive’ by workers, who may feel it is beyond reasonable expectation to have knowledge of past drug use, up to one month for some drugs in some cases. In past it was difficult for female workers to attend urine drug tests, as no separate facilities were available, and the majority of testers were male.

Saliva is a less well known, and less trusted means of testing by some, who argue that “it is not as accurate as urine” and that “uncovering a drug culture of use in the workplace is more important than knowing if workers are high”.

Unions argue that ‘impairment’ is what a drug and alcohol testing policy is meant to uncover, and that oral fluid testing is suitable for testing ‘impairment’, that is present use of the drug that would mean the person is ‘impaired’.

Well here is some reasons I’m an advocate for Oral Fluid testing

• Fast, easy and safe specimen collection
• Non invasive
• Lower chance of adulteration compared with urine screening.
• No need for washrooms or special facilities
• Observed collection eliminates instances of sample tampering.
• Drug concentrations similar to those of blood
• More sanitary compared to urine specimen handling.
• Useful in the detection of recent drug use (up to 24 hours).
• Collection of oral fluid specimen can be viewed by a second person without infringing privacy.

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