Drug Testing: Frequently Asked Questions

At NUAA we get lots of members and service users asking us about how long certain drugs stay in their system. The length of time depends on the test used, the amount you take, if you have any other medical conditions and your metabolism. In short, there is no sure-fire way to know. Below are some frequently asked questions.

What is a drug test?

Drug testing looks for traces of drugs in your body. Most drug tests in Australia ask you to provide samples of breath, urine or saliva. Drug testing can only let the testers know if you have used drugs, not the amount taken, when they were taken, or if you are impaired, except for alcohol breath testing that measures impairment.

What types of drug tests do they do in Australia?

Most tests in Australia ask you to provide samples of breath, urine or saliva. You will be asked to provide a fresh urine sample or asked to provide a cheek swab.

  • Breath test is used to measure Alcohol Impairment and is used by police and workplaces.
  • Urine tests for all prescription and illicit drugs, including some forms of synthetic cannabis. Tests can be modified to detect particular substances. Used by: Workplaces, drug treatment centres, and sporting bodies.
  • Saliva tests for cannabis, methamphetamines, MDMA (ecstasy), cocaine, opiates and some benzodiazepines. Used by: Police and workplaces.

How long do drugs stay in your system?

Most lists you find can only give you an estimation of how long it will take for a drug to leave your system. Below is a guide to help you if you have to take a drug test. Remember the length of time varies from person to person. 

Alcohol 3 – 5 days in urine and around 10 – 12 hours in your blood.

Amphetamines 1 – 3 days in urine and 12 hours in your blood.

Barbiturates  2 – 4 days in urine and 1 – 2 days in your blood.

Benzodiazapines 3 to 6 weeks in urine and 2 – 3 days in your blood.

Cannabis 7 to 30 days in urine and two weeks in your blood.

Cocaine 3 – 4 days in urine and 1 – 2 days in your blood.

Codeine 1 day in urine and 12 hours in your blood.

Heroin 3 – 4 days in urine up to 12 hours in your blood.

LSD 1 – 3 days in urine and 2 – 3 hours in your blood.

MDMA (ecstasy)  3 – 4 days in urine 1 – 2 days in your blood.

Methamphetamine (crystal meth) 3 – 6 days in urine and 24 – 72 hours in your blood.

Methadone 3 – 4 days in urine and 24 – 36 hours in your blood.

Morphine 2 -3 days in urine 6 – 8 hours in your blood.

I have heard you can beat a drug test

At NUAA, we get lots of people asking us about different methods to beat drug tests. There really isn’t anything you can do or take that will help you pass a drug test. The only guaranteed way to beat a drug test is to not take a drug or wait until the drug has passed through the body. Below are some of the most common myths people ask NUAA about. 

Does drinking lots of water help me pass a drug test?

If you have to do a urine drug test drinking lots of water, sports drinks etc all this will do is dilute your urine. Many urine tests measure the natural creatinine levels in your urine and if these a low it will be obvious you where trying to beat the test by drinking lots of water.

Hardcore exercise will help you pass a drug test

Some evidence suggests that working up a sweat will aid the body in efficiently processing a drug’s metabolites faster than it may otherwise. But newer studies suggest that intense workout sessions actually increase your odds of failing a drug test depending on the ways in which the metabolites bind to fat cells.

I have been told taking Aspirin will help me pass a drug test?

An extremely dangerous myth is if you take an overdose of aspirin you will pass a drug test. Overdosing on aspirin will not help anyone pass a drug test and it can actually cause kidney and liver failure if the overdose is severe. Over the counter pain medications don’t influence urine or saliva drug tests in any way.

My mate told me you can buy cures on the internet that can help you pass drug tests

Save your money, these cleansing cures that are advertised and sold on the internet won’t help you pass a drug test. These cures advertise that they will flush all of the toxins out of your body and as a result your urine will be drug free. However, THC metabolite stays in our fat cells and will continue to come out in your urine for anywhere between days to months. These cures may be very good for cleaning out our digestive tracts, but they won’t help you pass a drug test.

Drug testing in the workplace

It is generally accepted in Australia that random drug testing is an intrusion on the privacy of the individual. But there are a few exceptions to this so you may find yourself in a situation where you are asked to submit to drug test.

Australian industrial courts and tribunals are now accept that random drug testing by employers is an intrusion of an employee’s privacy and can only be legitimised on work, health and safety grounds.

Under work, health and safety legislation an employer can legitimately introduce drug testing in the workplace under certain circumstances. Employers can argue that they have a duty of care to all employees, to try and eliminate the risk that an employee might come to work impaired by alcohol or other drugs and pose a risk to the health and safety of fellow employees. Beyond that, no employer has the right to dictate what drugs or alcohol its employees use in their own time.

Why does alcohol testing measure impairment?

This is because there is scientific evidence that shows a blood alcohol reading of .05 or higher indicates impairment. Alcohol breath testing is interested in removing impaired drivers of the road or from operating heavy machinery. You can drive  with alcohol in your system as long as the level is below impairment level. Whereas it is illegal to drive with illicit drugs in your system, impairment is not the issue.

What type of employers do random drug testing?

You are more than likely to be randomly tested if you work in manufacturing using heavy machinery, mining industry, transport industry, heavy vehicles, or passenger transport, or work in Corrections.

What happens if I refuse or test positive at work?

If your employment contract explicitly outlines your employer’s company policy which requires all or some employees to submit to random or regular drug testing and you refuse to be tested, it could be argued to the Fair Work Commission that you refused to obey a lawful and reasonable direction given to you by your employer and may be grounds for dismissal. 

If you do submit and test positive, this doesn’t mean you will automatically be sacked. The Fair Work Commission has set down guidelines that employers must follow. Your employer must discuss with you that you tested positive and develop a plan on what action they intend to take. In most cases if you test positive you will receive formal counselling. If you continue to fail future drug tests your employer will then enter into a procedure that may result in your termination. The recommended steps are outlined here (pdf).

I am positive the results are wrong. What can I do?

Remember you can also ask to be retested as drug tests are not 100% accurate and you have the right to challenge a decision you feel is wrong. If you are a union member you may be able to get assistance from them or you can speak to a lawyer for legal advice. The Community Legal Centre website has a list of where you can get free legal advice.

What other organisations or services may ask me to undergo drug testing?

Police use random drug testing to detect if a driver is under the influence of alcohol while driving or has taken drugs recently.

Sporting bodies may ask athletes to undergo random testing to detect drugs that are not permitted while competing in certain sporting competitions.

Drug treatment services, like opiate substitution therapy (OST) programs, often ask patients to undergo random drug testing. These tests are usually used to see how people are still using illicit drugs and inform medical decisions like takeaways.

Random drug tests may be ordered by Courts for example the Family Court, the results are often used to help legal decisions in custody cases.

Read more about Roadside Drug Testing.

To Know more about Drug Testing click here [frequently asked Questions about Drug Testing]

User’s News Issue 85 also had an article about drug testing in the work.

For more information about drug testing check out:

Alcohol and Drug Foundation

Work Cover NSW (pdf)

Where Can I get More Information?

Check out more information about drug testing in the workplace.

User’s News Issue 85 also had an article about drug testing in the work.

Check out more information about road side drug testing.

Alcohol and Drug Foundation has additional information about road side drug testing.