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Understanding Panel Drug Tests - Expert Q&A
Mariah Barr
10 mins read

If you're developing a drug screening program for your organization, you likely have questions about drug panels. We recently sat down with Scott Mogensen, one of our screening experts, to answer some FAQs.

When it comes to drug testing, what is a drug panel?

From a terminology standpoint, a drug "panel" is simply a collection of drugs—or the family of drugs—that you want to test for on any given drug screen.

Standard panels exist, and two of the most common are the standard 5-panel urine drug test and 10-panel urine drug test. But those terms can be misleading in the same way as saying two of the most common pizza orders are two-topping pizzas and three-topping pizzas. You might make assumptions about what those toppings are, but the combinations can vary widely.

Can Foley customers choose which combination of drugs they want to test for?

With Foley, our customers can customize their drug panels. So it's not limited to a certain number of options, like five, ten, or twelve. Our customers have an almost infinite number of options, because even within the different combinations of drugs, there are different cut-off levels (i.e., the point at which a test is called positive or negative).


For example, the "standard" 5-panel is based on the five categories of drugs tested for in a federal drug testing program. And the "standard" 10-panel is five more drugs on top of that. But if a customer has a specific problem or concern about a drug that's not on any one of those panels, they can customize the panel to include that particular drug as well as the cut-off level.

Do Foley customers simply need to ask for the drugs they want to include on the drug panel?

Yes. At Foley, our clients talk to their customer success representatives and discuss their goals and options. For example, perhaps the organization is in a geographic region that's seen a spike in, say, Fentanyl deaths. So the organization's leaders might decide they want to screen for that drug. Our team would connect with the drug testing laboratory to configure a panel that meets the customer's specific needs.

Does customization affect drug testing pricing?

In most cases, the pricing doesn't change dramatically, unless it's an obscure drug.

Do certain industries have specific requirements regarding what they screen for? Do you see similar requests among similar types of organizations?

Certain industries do have requirements. As we referenced earlier, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has a standard 5-panel that it requires. And yes, certain types of organizations might screen similarly. Consider steroids. Athletic organizations would likely screen for steroids, but we also find that police and fire departments often screen for steroids as well.

Another example: In the healthcare space, our customer base tends to be interested in non-illicit drugs in addition to illicit drugs. Think of prescription medications that people have access to that may be a risk factor.

Is it possible an employer would choose different panels for different types of jobs? For example, drivers would have one set and administration would have another?

Yes, absolutely. The way you said it is the right way to think about it, too. There shouldn't be a discriminatory element to your decision, i.e., 'I'm choosing this panel for this person, but this other panel for the same person doing the same job.' You want to have some sort of delineation where this category of job is tested under Panel A and this other category of job is tested under Panel B. And it can be specific to what they do.

Here's an example that illustrates what I mean: Let's say you have employees who paint bridges, which means they're often hanging off the underside of an overpass or a bridge as they paint the bottom. You might want a more comprehensive drug test panel to make sure they're not potentially at risk of serious injury. But for your executives, maybe it's less concerning and you only want to get a cursory screen to make sure they're not using certain drugs, like heroin.

Do different states have different rules regarding how employers can conduct drug tests?

The short answer is yes, but the longer answer is "yes, but it's complicated." If it's not a federally regulated industry, like transportation, then drug testing that's done for an employer under their policy is governed by the state statutory law or the state case law for the state where the work takes place.

Let's unpackage what I just said, since it was a mouthful.

Each state typically falls into one of three categories:

  • They have no state statute around drug testing. They haven't passed a state statute telling you what you can or can't do as it relates to drug testing. There's no rule other than case law, which only represents legal authority as it pertains to the facts of the case. No restrictions have been codified.
  • They have mandatory state laws around drug testing. These laws, which vary in each state, will provide specific guidelines that organizations must follow, such as what types of tests you can perform and what methods you can use (e.g., urine, hair, oral fluids).
  • Some states have voluntary state laws around drug testing. Voluntary state statutes related to drug testing essentially serve as incentives—the company can choose to voluntarily adhere to the law, and usually, there's a perk for them (typically a worker's compensation premium discount).

So every state has its unique specifics, which is why it's important to work with a reputable drug-screening vendor that understands and complies with all the various laws. And laws, as you know, change. For example, a current hot-button issue is how to handle medicinal and recreational marijuana. Every state has a different language and different standards about what happens in those situations.

Beyond complying with federal and state laws, what else should an organization keep in mind when determining what drugs to test for? 

The best advice would probably be to work with a reputable vendor like Foley. You want to work with someone who not only knows what they're talking about, but who'll also listen to your specific goals so they can create a package that meets those needs. Customization is critical. Drug testing isn't—and shouldn't be—a one-size-fits-all solution.

Is there anything else about drug testing panels that you think is important to mention?

An important point to keep in mind: Commonly used drugs change over time, so you should reconsider your panel from time to time to make sure it's achieving what you want to accomplish.

Sometimes an HR department decides on what their drug testing panel is and then it stays the same for 15 years because no one wants to go back and think about it again. But the drugs some people are using today are different from the drugs they were using 15 years ago. So, if your concern is making sure that you have a drug-free workplace, then you have to make sure your drug panels keep pace with the times.

At Foley, we take a proactive approach. Our Customer Success Representatives will remind you when it's time to revisit the drugs you're currently screening for. This is just one of many benefits you'll enjoy when you choose Foley as your employee-screening partner. Get started today and leave your worries about choosing an effective and compliant drug testing panel behind.

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