Saliva Testing Works – Why is a Trial Required?

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Is your company considering a comparison trial wherein you conduct two tests on each employee, one urine and one saliva?

This type of trial approach, can be fundamentally flawed.

Ensure you are clear on what you are trying to achieve and what questions truly require answers.

“By all means trial a saliva drug testing program, but do not measure it against urine testing results.”  

Some food for thought…


First, don’t ignore the bigger picture.

What is the purpose of your drug testing program?

Fitness for work (recent use of drugs) OR History of use (your workforce must be “clean” like an athlete or defence force member). Which test method is appropriate to your workplace and overall philosophy?  (You cannot have both despite some companies attempting to make such programs work.)


Secondly, what are you going to learn?

Detection times for each drug in urine testing versus saliva are very different.  In many cases if you get a positive for one, you will get a negative for the other. Clearly if you are expecting to see both return positives, thus “proving” the saliva test worked, your thinking is flawed.

The above is especially true with Marijuana with its relatively short window of detection for saliva – yet in urine it may be detected for many weeks after use. So what are you looking for as a conclusive result regarding effectiveness of saliva?


Thirdly, are you attempting to test the effectiveness of low quality saliva test kits?

With many such kits I can save you the time and cost of a trial – they do not work very well!

If you are serious about your drug testing you should be using high quality saliva kits, which are those using electronic equipment.

Otherwise, there are some regular style saliva drug test kits which are higher quality and subsequently higher priced.


Finally, why is saliva drug testing still questioned?

    • Are urine testing kits perfect? Not by a long shot.
    • If you wish to rely on science, then how much better is urine testing when compared to saliva testing with proper equipment? What are we really talking about with increased performance in terms of percentage, 2%, 5%, 10% or more? How important are these percentiles when it comes to real world results and achieving the goal of your program?
    • How can urine testing, using the naked eye for interpretation of results compete with an electronic saliva test device which sees what the eye could not?
    • Why are so many Australian companies who are already using saliva drug testing, with high quality equipment, more than satisfied with their drug testing programs?
    • Why are many of the drug testing agencies so resistant to change and slow to support saliva drug testing?

In Summary…

Drug testing programs are about risk management.  In many cases risk management success does not require 100%.

Take fatigue for example, you cannot test conclusively for fatigue, not even with 50% accuracy. In the face of such a problem do you give up on managing fatigue?  No, you include a range of risk management strategies to minimise it.

A similar approach can be applied in drug testing.  I have witnessed firsthand the success of programs despite the absence of 100% in the drug testing area.   Real world success requires you to choose urine or saliva based upon the goal of your program.  Then, take the best drug testing technology/equipment available for that method – and add to it the best practice procedures available.

One day there will be better technology for saliva and urine.  Maybe then we will wonder how we ever got by with the “old” technology.  Therein lies the truth – it can all be workable provided you use the best technology you can find today!!

If you want the right answer to the right questions, conduct your own trial of saliva drug testing, ditch the urine tests and commit to saliva for a 12 month period. Ensure you use quality equipment and use the knowledge of an experienced saliva drug tester or consultant. (Also ensure you amend your policy where required so it is relevant to saliva testing.)

The real question to be answered when it comes to saliva drug testing is – does it work for your company?  I can confidently say it does, and will – when done properly.

Contact mefor further discussion!


About the Author:

Cameron Stuart has specialised in saliva based workplace drug & alcohol testing programs since 2003. He has personally conducted many thousands of tests and implemented drug & alcohol testing programs into hundreds of workplaces. He consults to workplaces throughout Australia to assist with their drug testing programs.

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