Test Quick Guide

Urine drug testing detects evidence of recent drug use or misuse in a sample of urine. Testing can detect illegal or prohibited drug use, prescription medications, over-the-counter medicines, and legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco.

Although drug testing can be performed on several types of samples, including blood, saliva, and hair, urine is the most commonly used for drug testing. Urine drug tests can be used in a wide variety of situations in which testing for drug use or misuse is required.

About the Test

Purpose of the test

Urine drug testing (also known as a urine drug screen) can detect evidence of recent drug use or misuse. Drug use refers to using an illegal drug, like heroin or cocaine, while drug misuse refers to the use of medication in a manner that is unhealthy or differs from what is prescribed by a doctor (for example, misuse of a pain medication).

A common use of urine drug testing is to screen for drug use or misuse in the workplace. A urine drug test may be requested by an employer when screening job applicants, for periodic or random drug testing of employees, and when drug use is suspected based on symptoms or workplace accidents.

What does the test measure?

Urine drug tests may detect the drug itself in the urine, a drug metabolite, or other biomarkers that suggest use or misuse. A drug biomarker is any measurable substance present after taking a drug. And a metabolite is a type of biomarker that remains in the body when a drug is processed and broken down.

Urine drug tests detect evidence of recent or past drug use or misuse but typically cannot diagnose current intoxication or addiction. Drugs can be detected in the urine for days, weeks, or months after use. This depends on various factors like the amount and frequency of drug use, as well as the rate at which the drug is metabolized by and eliminated from the body.

Drugs that can be detected by a urine drug test include:

When should I get this test?

Urine drug testing may be used in the workplace, the military, and organized sports. Testing may also be performed to provide evidence of a crime, to check for signs of relapse in a substance use treatment program, or to monitor your adherence to prescribed medication.

Federal employees may be required to have periodic or random drug testing as part of a drug-free workplace program. These programs are mandated in several federal industries that involve public safety and national security, such as those in the Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense.

If you are taking prescription drugs that have the potential for misuse, a doctor may order a urine drug test to confirm you are taking medication as prescribed. Some of the most commonly misused prescription drugs include opioids for pain control, central nervous system depressants used to treat anxiety and sleep issues, and stimulants used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Other circumstances in which a urine drug test may be performed include:

  • Forensic testing: Urine drug tests may be ordered to provide evidence of a crime during an investigation or court case. Periodic or random testing may also be performed as a term of probation.
  • Medical testing: Although testing hospitalized patients for drug use or misuse is often unnecessary, a urine drug test may be used in certain circumstances, such as prior to an organ transplant or in cases of a suspected overdose.
  • Treatment adherence: A urine drug test may confirm adherence to a substance abuse treatment program.
  • Athletic testing: Urine drug testing is often used to screen professional athletes for drugs and other substances that may be performance-enhancing.
  • Military testing: Members may be required to undergo periodic or random drug tests.

Finding a Urine Drug Test

How can I get a urine drug test?

Urine drug tests are performed in a wide variety of settings. Testing can be conducted at hospitals, laboratories, substance use treatment programs, and other medical or legal settings. Samples for urine drug testing can also be obtained at a workplace or other location before being analyzed by a laboratory at a different location.

A urine drug test may be ordered by a doctor or an administrator of a program that requires drug testing. Urine drug tests can also be purchased over the counter without a prescription or online.

Can I take the test at home?

At-home drug tests conducted using a urine sample are available for various drugs. Individual at-home urine drug tests detect one drug, while at-home urine panel tests detect evidence of multiple drugs in one sample.

Urine drug testing done at home offers only preliminary results and is not a substitute for laboratory-based testing. If preliminary results are positive, an additional confirmation test may be necessary to reduce the risk of inaccurate results. Laboratory testing is the most reliable way to confirm a positive drug screening result. You can order a urine drug test online without a doctor’s order and get tested in the participating lab.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against using at-home drug testing in children and adolescents due to the lack of evidence that this testing reduces drug use in those groups. Additional risks include the potential for misinterpreting test results and the negative effect that testing may have on the relationship between children and parents.

Before purchasing an at-home urine drug test, parents may be advised to speak with a doctor or pediatrician.

How much does the test cost?

The cost of urine drug testing depends on many factors, including where the test is conducted, and whether the test detects one drug or several drugs in the urine sample. Costs may include the office visit and a fee for sample collection in addition to the test itself.

Workplace, military, and athletic drug testing may be paid for by the employer or organization requiring testing. When a doctor orders it, your health insurance may cover the testing costs. You may still be responsible for copays or deductibles, so discussing the cost of testing with your doctor, insurance provider, or the organization requiring testing is important.

At-home urine drug tests are often available for around $6, depending on the type of drug being tested. The cost of urine drug test panels starts at around $12. You’ll more likely pay $30 to $60 for comprehensive testing and up to $200 for lab testing.

Taking a Urine Drug Test

Urine drug tests conducted in a laboratory are performed on a clean catch urine sample. These require that you take several steps to reduce the risk of contaminating the urine sample. A clean catch urine sample can be collected in a laboratory, hospital, or another testing site.

To prevent tampering with or contaminating a urine sample, you may be monitored or observed while collecting urine. During urine collection monitoring, a trained staff member checks the restroom before you enter to collect your sample. When direct observation occurs, a professional watches you while the sample is collected.

Before the test

Before a urine drug test, tell your doctor or the test administrator about any over-the-counter or prescription medications or supplements you have recently taken. In some cases, certain medications and supplements can trigger a positive screening result on a drug test.

Additional measures may be taken to prevent tampering with the urine sample for a urine drug test at a laboratory. For example, you will be given a plastic container sealed in tamper-proof packaging. Additionally, the water supply in the bathroom may be turned off, and the water in the toilet may be tinted with a blue dye.

When preparing to take an at-home urine drug testing, begin by reading all instructions provided in the test kit. The kits should include instructions, a collection container, and the test itself. At- home urine drug tests may be strips, a card, or a cassette.

During the test

The clean catch method of collecting a urine sample begins with you washing your hands with soap and water to remove any germs. You may also be instructed to clean your genitals with a pad or wipe provided by the test administrator.

After your hands and genitals are clean, you begin urinating into the toilet before moving the collection container into the urine stream. You urinate into the collection container until it is filled to a pre-marked level. Once filled, the collection container is moved out of the urine stream, and you can finish urinating into the toilet.

Urine drug testing is painless, although you may experience anxiety during the collection process.

Collecting a clean catch sample of urine for an at-home urine drug test is similar to collecting it for laboratory-based testing. For tests that can be completed at home, kits include a testing device that is either immersed in the urine sample or allows you to place a drop of urine into the test cassette. Devices vary, so it’s important to carefully conduct an at-home urine drug test according to the instructions provided in the kit.

After the test

Once a urine sample is collected for laboratory testing, you may be asked to close the sample container and return it to a trained staff member. Laboratory staff may record the temperature of the sample and secure it in tamper-proof packaging before it is sent for testing.

There are no restrictions on activity after a urine drug test.

Urine Drug Test Results

Receiving test results

The results of a urine drug test are generally available within a few business days after the test is taken. You’ll likely receive a phone call, secure email, or you may be able to log into a password-protected online portal where results are posted. In some cases, urine drug test results may be delivered in the mail.

For at-home test kits, instructions should indicate how long to wait before reading test results. When at-home collection kits are sent to a laboratory, results may take a few additional days to become available. In some cases, you may access the test report through a smartphone application or the company’s website.

Interpreting test results

Initial drug tests typically provide results within minutes indicating the presence or absence of drugs by a colored band on the test device or from an automated laboratory analyzer. Test results from an initial drug test, including at-home urine drug tests, provide only preliminary results.

A negative result on an initial drug test indicates that no evidence of drug use or misuse was detected in the urine sample. This may be because you haven’t used the specific drugs tested, you last used the drug outside its detection window, or there were problems in conducting the drug test.

If initial drug test results are positive, the sample should be sent to a laboratory for a confirmatory test that uses more specific test methods.

The results of a confirmatory drug test conducted in a laboratory may be reported as positive, negative, or invalid. A negative test result on a confirmatory test indicates no evidence of drug use was detected. Similar to initial test results, a negative confirmatory test indicates that you haven’t used the drugs included in the test or you last used drugs outside the detection window.

An invalid result indicates the test could not confirm whether drugs were present in your urine sample due to evidence it was adulterated or substituted during the collection process. Laboratory has several ways to determine if a urine sample was tampered. If a test is invalid, the laboratory will typically report the reason for this result.

A positive result on a confirmatory test indicates that the drug was detected in the urine sample above the laboratory’s established cutoff value. While the amount of a drug that triggers a positive result can vary between labs, many labs use standards established by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for drug-free workplace programs.

SAMHSA has established cutoff values for five drugs or drug classes in the urine included in federal drug-free workplace policies: marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, phencyclidine (PCP), and several types of opioids. The table below includes the SAMHSA cutoff values for both initial and confirmatory urine testing:

SAMHSA Urine Drug Test Cutoff Values

The presence of fentanyl above 0.20 ng/mL or norfentanyl (a fentanyl metabolite) above 1.0 ng/mL in urine sample is an indicator that a person has used fentanyl.

Depending on the urine drug test results, a doctor may evaluate you for a substance use disorder. During an evaluation for a substance use disorder, you will be asked a series of questions to determine the pattern and effects of drug use or misuse.

You also may have questions about urine drug testing, and it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about the process and your results. Helpful questions you may ask include:

  • Why am I being tested for drug use or misuse?
  • What is the result of my test?
  • Is confirmation testing necessary?
  • Who will have access to my test result or medical record?
  • Will I be retested for drug use or misuse in the future?


See More

Ask a Laboratory Scientist

Ask A Laboratory Scientist

This form enables patients to ask specific questions about lab tests. Your questions will be answered by a laboratory scientist as part of a voluntary service provided by one of our partners, American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science. Please allow 2-3 business days for an email response from one of the volunteers on the Consumer Information Response Team.

Send Us Your Question