Drug testing in Australia

What are they looking for in a drug test?

Updated 11th December 2019

In Australia there are currently 2 main ways to test for drugs.

Detecting drugs or prescription medication in urine is different than saliva, as some drugs break down in the body and cannot be detected as well in urine samples. These drugs break down into what is known as a metabolite. For example, THC (marijuana) uses THC-COOH as the detectable major metabolite to detect THC delta 9 (the active ingredient in marijuana).

What drugs show up in a urine test and for how long?

In Australia there are certain drugs under each standard that need to be detected. We have included here the range of detection.

Urine AS4308

Saliva AS4760-2019

  • Opiates 6-12 hours
  • Amphetamine-type stimulants 12 hours
  • Delta 9 THC 15ng/ml 12-24 hours (down from 25ng/ml in 2019)
  • Cocaine and metabolites 12 hours
  • Oxycodone has been added to the standard in 2019

The above drugs are a bare minimum when following the Australian standard.

These are standards where companies (who drug test their own staff), and workplace drug testing companies need to adhere to. In saying that, some companies choose to test for more drugs like MDMA (ecstasy), K2 (synthetic marijuana), alcohol, etc. Most pre-employment medicals these days are likely to test for alcohol in urine as well as the 6 mandatory drugs.

What drugs can be detected in a urine test?

There are a lot of drugs that can be detected in urine. However, it is up to the workplace policy to suggest what drugs need to be detected. Here is a list of what drugs can be detected in urine.

Cocaine, THC-Marijuana, Opiates, Amphetamines, Benzodiazepines, Barbiturates, Methadone, Tricyclic Antidepressants, MDMA-Ecstasy, Oxycodone, Buprenorphine – Suboxone, Propoxyphene (Darvon, Darvocet, Novrad), Phencyclidine, and Buprenorphine.

multi-panel drug test

How does a drug screening test work?

Instant drug tests are known as immunoassays. They are based on the principle of competitive binding. Drugs which may be present in the urine specimen compete against their respective drug conjugate for binding sites on their specific antibody. These are the two lines on the drug test.

A urine or saliva specimen migrates upward the absorbent strips via capillary action. A drug (if present in the urine specimen below its cut-off concentration) will not saturate the binding sites of its specific antibody. The antibody will then react with the drug protein conjugate and a visible colored line will show up in the test line region of the specific drug strip.

The presence of drug above the cut-off concentration will saturate all the binding sites of the antibody. Therefore, the colored line will not form in the test line region. A drug-positive urine specimen will not generate a colored line in the specific test line region of the strip because of drug competition, while a drug-negative urine specimen will generate a line in the test line region because of the absence of drug competition. To serve as a procedural control, a colored line will always appear at the control line region, indicating that proper volume of specimen has been added and membrane wicking has occurred

pre-employment drug test

Pre-Employment Drug and Alcohol Screening

When do employers drug test? Employers do drug testing as part of the pre-employment hiring process. It’s part of a medical examination where they also test your hearing, sight, existing injuries etc.

Passing the drug test and alcohol screen can be mission critical to gain employment. This is why you must make sure you’re clean before going in to the pre-employment medical. Buying a few drug test kits will allow you to test yourself before you go in. Because there is no turning back once you are there.

Random drug tests at work

Like the name suggests… they are random! This type of testing catches out most drug users as they don’t suspect anything. Employees can be asked to undertake a drug test at random if he or she is acting suspicious, especially if the type of work is safety conscious, eg scaffolding, operating machinery, construction workers etc. Employers have rights to hand out drug tests because employers have a responsibility under health and safety legislation to provide a safe working environment for all employees. Consult your work drug testing policy for correct policies and procedures.