What’s the difference between a regulated and non-regulated drug test?

“Regulated” means that the test is defined by government regulations. Most regulated testing falls under the U.S. Department of Transportation guidelines for one of the agencies that fall under DOT:

  • FAA
  • FRA
  • FTA
  • USCG

The regulations that guide such testing (49 CFR Part 40) describe everything from the specimen type, test panel and collection process. Of course, the regs cover much more than that, but the main thing to understand is that regulated drug tests are very specific. Some general characteristics of regulated drug tests include:

  • Specimen must be urine
  • It is a 5 panel test which includes THC, Cocaine, Amphetamines (including MDMA and methamphetamine), PCP and Opioids (including codeine, morphine, heroin, oxy and hydro)
  • Specimens are collected on a Federal Custody and Control Form
  • Collectors must be trained and certified for Federal collections

Non-regulated testing is everything else.

In non-regulated drug testing, employers can use urine, hair or saliva specimens, and select which drugs they want to test for. There are many non-federal test forms, usually labeled “Forensic Custody and Control Form” or something similar.

Although the collection process is similar, and a chain of custody must be maintained, employers have more choices with non-regulated testing.

Some of the choices employers can make in no-federal drug testing:

  • Tests for more drugs, like benzodiazepines, fentanyl or synthetic marijuana
  • Tests for fewer drugs. Some employers are dropping marijuana from the test panel.
  • Instant urine testing for same-day results.
  • Conduct a hair test alongside a Federal or non-Federal urine test to get a longer window of detection.
  • Test with oral fluid for post-accident or suspicion since because saliva is useful for detecting recent use.

Many employers have implemented non-regulated testing to supplement their regulated testing program. The most common specimen for testing is urine, though there is increasing interest in alternative specimens.

Employers who drug test under company authority (non-regulated) use the following criteria when determining their policy:

  • Accuracy
  • Fairness
  • Efficiency, followed by cost

Hair testing and oral fluid (saliva) testing are gaining momentum with employers, and are available in most areas.

Non-regulated employers usually start with pre-employment drug testing and usually include post-accident and reasonable suspicion/cause testing. Many will run their non-regulated and regulated programs side by side.

Drug and alcohol testing is proven to improve safety and productivity. These days with legal marijuana and daily reports of prescription drug abuse, employers must remain vigilant.

Further Reading about Drug Tests: