Let’s Compare: Rapid vs Lab Based Drug Testing

Let’s Compare: Rapid vs Lab Based Drug Testing

Currently there are two main options for drug testing: Rapid and Lab Based. But, which one is better? Today, employers use drug testing as the most common way to screen potential employees, affirm insurance claims, and more. Simply put, it’s a part of life for millions of employees, employers and organizations everywhere.

While these two tests can look for similar substances in one’s body, there are some significant differences between the two. Taking a closer look at them will help you figure out which is right for your situation and company.

Time is often the biggest factor when making the decision on which test works best. Rapid tests obviously provide a faster turnaround time, usually of five minutes or less. They are also considered the most convenient method. In contrast, lab based drug test results may take anywhere from twenty four to seventy-two hours to receive thorough results, but may be more accurate in the long run. However, lab based testing has come a long way over the last few years. Today, results are faster than ever. Because of this, looking at some other factors that are unique to each test is worth doing.

Factors to Considered…

Turnaround aside, there are other important factors employers must considered before making a decision between Rapid vs Lab Based Drug Testing and which option best fits the needs of their organization. They include:

Number of Drugs:

How many drugs are needed to be included in the testing? Rapid test can check for as few as two or as many as twelve different substances, but are limited to urine testing only. On the other hand, Lab based drug tests can check for almost any substance via urine, blood, saliva, or hair.

Time Factor:

If an employee performs a safety sensitive job, a quick test result may be important to determine if that employee is okay to perform that job or if he should be pulled off.


Accuracy is probably the most important consideration. Lab based testing is known to be the more accurate of the two. Labs will do a test or screening of a specimen similar to the rapid test. If there is detection of a drug, a very scientific method called gas chromatography-mass spectrometry is performed to confirm the findings. Not only can more drugs be tested, but the occurrence of false positives can be greatly reduced. This offers more protection for the companies and organizations as well as the individuals being tested.


Generally cost is also a consideration. Whether it be the individual or the company that is responsible for payment, the overall cost of either is comparable.

False Positives:

False positives can happen with any testing, but are less likely with Lab based drug tests. There has often been the question of whether certain seemingly benign substances can create a false positives. The short answer is… yes they can! Poppy seeds and dextromethorphan (in cough medications) can indeed cause false positives for opiates, so lay off that poppy seed bagel before you get tested!

With that being said, there are also some falsehoods out there that are 100% NOT true!

If you go to the dentist and used Novocaine or any other type of “caine” for your root canal, you cannot claim a false positive if you test positive for Cocaine. In addition, if you experience a situation where you are susceptible to second hand marijuana smoke, can you test positive for THC from passive smoke inhalation? This is not considered a valid reason. The cut-off concentrations for lab analysis are set well above that which may occur with passive inhalation. It takes approximately 30 days for Marijuana to be completely out of the body.

Rapid vs Lab Based Drug Testing

If you’re looking for quick and convenient, the Rapid tests are the way to go. If increased accuracy and depth of testing is your preference, the obvious choice is Lab based. Although convenience and fast turnaround times are important, other key considerations are vital to decision making. These include your company’s drug testing program and objectives, state laws in every state you conduct business, the value of an accurate test and a commitment to the added responsibility of collecting and overseeing an on-site drug testing program.

ProHealth Can Help!

If you have any questions regarding which testing would be the most beneficial or appropriate for your purposes, contact Megan Siefert at megans@prohealthfl.com / (850) 554-9084, or your local ProHealth office for more information.



National Drug Screening, Inc.


Quest Diagnostics